The Boy

Part Nine

by  Karen and Nancy



The next evening…


Scott and Teresa exchanged smiles as they watched Murdoch. The rancher had barely contained his impatience through supper, spreading the detailed maps of the ranch over the entire length of the long table as soon as Maria had cleared it. Now he bent over them, his head swiveling back and forth as his fingers traced different patterns across the paper. He paused to run his hand through his hair.


Scott raised his eyebrows at Teresa, asking his question silently. Her twinkling eyes met his and she shrugged. The girl couldn’t imagine what Murdoch was up to, but she knew the determined look on his face. The man was planning something.


Murdoch leaned over the maps again and marked some areas with a pencil. After several minutes of intense concentration, he straightened and stared down at his design, arms folded. A slight frown flitted over his face and he made a correction to his work. That seemed to satisfy him and Murdoch beckoned his son.


“Scott, come tell me what you think.”


Scott unfolded his lean frame from the sofa and sauntered toward the table, grinning at Teresa as he passed her. He stood beside his father, mimicking the folded-arm posture and stared from the maps to Murdoch’s face.


“What exactly am I looking at?”


Murdoch’s face reddened as he realized he hadn’t explained to Scott what he was doing. “I’ve decided that you and Johnny are right. Lancer should be in the horse business—both catching and breaking wild ones and breeding and selling working horses.”


Scott raised his eyebrows and Murdoch hastened to offer additional information.


“There’s good money to be made on sound, broke horses and it’ll afford us a cushion against the normal fluctuation in the price of beef.” He stared at his hands, twisting the pencil. “You and Johnny have convinced me that an operation devoted to breeding and training top cowponies will add to Lancer’s prestige. You have a strong start with that grulla colt and those thoroughbred mares. I think we can make a go of it. Do you agree?”


“I’ve always thought Johnny’s plans for a horse operation had merit. And even if I did disagree, I believe he deserves a chance to make his ideas work.” Scott’s gaze didn’t waver from Murdoch’s face.


Murdoch broke eye contact first, glancing down at the map. “He’s going to get that chance. I want to start building the fencing and barns we’ll need. I think it will be a nice surprise for your brother when he is back on his feet. We can fence off a couple of pastures and lay out several paddocks and a training corral in this section,” he pointed to a spot on the map. “Then we’ll put up a barn here and another here.” He faced Scott proudly, “What do you think?”


Scott wanted to let loose with his version of a Rebel yell at this latest indication of the change in Murdoch’s relationship with Johnny. Trust Murdoch to see the moneymaking opportunity inherent in their proposal. Yet more than the simple economics of breaking and supplying wild horses, their father had finally understood and accepted the value of Johnny’s uncanny abilities with a horse. Now the man was embracing the dream of the breeding program that his brother was so passionate about and associating Johnny with enhancing Lancer’s prestige.


He forced a neutral expression as he mentally compared the plans drawn on the map to those he and Johnny had discussed. They were similar, although Murdoch had made sensible changes, improving on their original ideas. He considered his next words carefully.


“I believe this blueprint lays the foundation for a successful business.” He watched the satisfied smile spread across his father’s face. “I like the way you’ve moved the pastures to this area with better graze and resituated this barn.” He punctuated his comments with gestures to the appropriate points on the map. 


“Your pasture lay-out makes better use of the water in that section and if the pastures are here, moving the site of this barn is a logical decision. Plus you’ve added this set of paddocks and the training corral. We’ll need those.” He raised his eyebrows. “Your changes improve the plans. That’s the beauty of experience.”


Murdoch flushed with pleasure and began gathering the maps and rolling them. “Good. I’ll get with Cipriano and Jelly and we’ll get started tomorrow.”


Scott cleared his throat and Murdoch glanced toward him. “I do have a suggestion, sir.”




“Over the past few days, you’ve talked with Johnny about what it was like to build this ranch. What you said made a big impression on him.”  


“He told me that he wanted to be a part of building something—instead of destroying what others had built,” Murdoch nodded.


“Yes, he’s expressed that to me, too.” Scott placed a hand on Murdoch’s shoulder. “I know how surprised and excited Johnny will be if you go through with your plan.”




“I can only think of one thing Johnny would like better than to have you surprise him.” Scott met Murdoch’s eyes. “Give him the chance to plan it with you, sir. Let Johnny be part of building something side-by-side with you.”


Teresa leaped to her feet and hurried to join them at the table. “That’s a wonderful idea. Oh, Murdoch, it will mean so much to Johnny if you include him in the planning.”


Murdoch studied their earnest faces, pondering the wisdom he saw there. They were right. He still had so much to learn about his younger son, but he knew enough to realize the truth in their observations. Involving Johnny in the planning process would strengthen their bond. The boy would get more satisfaction from taking part than he would from a surprise.


And I must tell him that his training abilities and eye for a horse will build Lancer’s prestige. He needs to hear that.


Murdoch slipped an arm around Teresa’s shoulders and smiled at Scott. “Thank you, son. Your suggestion is a wise one and I agree with you both. We’ll all discuss it with Johnny and let him take the lead in the planning.”


“Don’t go doin’ no plannin’ with Johnny just yet.” Jelly stomped into the room.


Teresa stepped toward him. “Is Johnny all right, Jelly?”


Jelly faced them with his hands on his hips, chin jutting forward. “No, he ain’t. Boy’s been cross as a snappin’ turtle all evenin’, frettin’ ‘bout how he ain’t gettin’ no stronger.”


Murdoch started toward the stairs. “I’ll settle him down.”


Jelly grasped Murdoch’s forearm. “No need, Boss. I give him his medicine and he’s asleep now. Maria’s sittin’ with him.”


“What else, Jelly?” Teresa folded her arms and studied the old handyman’s face.


“You got eyes like an owl, honey.” His smile faltered as he realized that she wasn’t to be diverted. “Johnny’s got a touch of fever. Reckon some of them stitches is infected. I sure am glad Doc’s comin’ tomorrow.”


Scott and Murdoch exchanged glances and started for the stairs. Teresa stepped in front of them and slipped her arms through theirs.


“Maria will take care of Johnny. She doesn’t need help from either of you.”


“But if he’s got a fever…” Scott tried to shake off her arm.


“Scott, Sam told us that there was a risk of the incision becoming infected. Maria and I know how to treat it. She’ll call us if Johnny’s fever rises.” She began herding the men toward the fire. “Besides, if you go barging in, you’ll disturb him and you heard Sam explain how important a restful, complete night’s sleep is to Johnny’s recovery.”


“I suppose you’re right.” Scott sank down onto the sofa. “I wish this hadn’t happened. Johnny was just starting to get stronger. Even a minor infection will set him back.”


Murdoch busied himself pouring coffee and handing out the cups from the tray Teresa had placed by the fire earlier. “Yes, I’m afraid it will. I’m worried—he isn’t bouncing back as quickly as I thought he would.”


Teresa put her hands on her hips and glared at them. “Listen to the two of you. Do you think you can be any gloomier?”


One blond and two silver heads bowed under her scrutiny.


“Dr. Jenkins was quite clear. He told us that it would take a long time for Johnny to recover from this illness, much longer than getting over an injury.” She tapped her foot and stared at Murdoch. “I think Johnny’s making a remarkable recovery considering all he’s been through. He’s bouncing back just fine. And don’t you tell him any different.”


“Reckon she’s right, Boss. That boy’s a mite perkier than he has any right to be. His frettin’ and fussin’ just proves he’s better.” Jelly shook his head. “He wouldn’t be Johnny if’n he didn’t fight the bit some. I figure he’ll be pullin’ that tube out any time now.”


“No, he won’t.” Scott set his empty coffee cup aside. “I discussed the tube with him and he agreed to leave it alone.”


“Johnny said that?” Jelly leaned toward Scott, skepticism in every line of his body.


“Yes. I made it clear that I expected him to leave the tube alone until Sam removed it. He said that he understood.”


Teresa gave a chortle of laughter and clapped her hand over her mouth.


“What?” Scott demanded. He stared at the smirks on Murdoch’s and Jelly’s faces. “What?”


“Oh, Scott, don’t you see?” Teresa’s eyes danced.




“Exactly what did Johnny agree to do? I mean, did he promise you he wouldn’t try to pull the tube out or did he just agree that you expected him to leave it alone?”


Scott flushed as the implication of her words dawned on him. “Just that I expected him to leave it alone. My brother should be a lawyer.” He shook his head. “But I still don’t think he’ll try it. I did lay down the law rather convincingly.”


Murdoch joined in the laughter. “Let’s hope Sam decides to remove the tube tomorrow. Then we won’t have to fight that battle.”


“Johnny still isn’t strong enough to eat and drink as much as he needs to,” Teresa said. “Sam will leave the tube in place—especially if he has an infection.”


Jelly nodded agreement and spoke in a gloomy voice, “Yep. ‘Fraid Doc’s gonna leave it in and Johnny’s gonna be as miserable as a flea-bit hound with a sore hind leg. We’re gonna be on our toes keepin’ that tube in his nose and his butt in the bed.”


“Yes, he’s going to be a handful for the next few weeks. Sam said it would take all of us to nurse Johnny back to health and he’s right. You’re going to have to deal with Johnny’s fretting and fussing,” she stared pointedly at Jelly and Scott, “without upsetting him. So I suggest that you all go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. You’ll need it.”


Teresa started toward the stairs. “I’m going to check on Johnny and make sure Maria doesn’t need any help.”


Murdoch followed her, speaking over his shoulder to Scott and Jelly. “You two go ahead and turn in. I’m just going to make sure Johnny is resting comfortably.” He disappeared through the arched doorway.


Scott and Jelly exchanged glances and shared a laugh. Scott refilled his coffee and raised the cup in a toast. “To father hens everywhere.”





The next morning…


The rays of the morning sun bathed Johnny’s face and chest with warmth. He usually relished the sensation of basking in the sunshine, but today, the heat made him uncomfortable. He was unpleasantly hot, with the detached, floating sensations he associated with a fever. Johnny sighed and shifted restlessly on his pillows, discouraged at how difficult he found even that simple movement.


Hate bein’ so dern weak. Seems like I’ll never get well. Ain’t gonna get no stronger just layin’ here.


He’d suffered through enough bullet wounds to know that he recovered quicker if he forced himself to get up and around. Shucks, he’d been layin’ around for a week and it was time to get on his feet. Now was as good a time as any—especially since he was alone. They never left him alone anymore. But Teresa had gone downstairs to help Maria and Scott hadn’t come in yet. This was his chance.


He gritted his teeth and pulled himself to a sitting position. The struggle drained him alarmingly, and for several minutes, he lay back against the pillows and panted.


Gotta get on my feet.


Johnny bit his lip and forced his legs over the side of the bed. Inch by inch he fought his way upward until he sat sideways, feet dangling over the edge. A wave of dizziness pounded him and his head throbbed. He was tempted to forget the whole thing and sink back into the softness of the pillows. He was so tired. He was always tired—that was the problem.


All I do is sleep. Gotta get up. At least if I walk some I’ll have an excuse for bein’ tired.


Sitting without the support of the pillows put pressure on the incision and the drain. Johnny winced as the dull ache swirled into a sharp throbbing. He cradled his belly, supporting the drain with one hand. The bracing effect of his hand helped relieve the pressure. When the pain eased, he wrapped the blanket around his shoulders.

Yep. Gonna get on my feet and then I’m gonna get me some pants.


Johnny scooted forward until his feet met the floor and took a deep breath. This was it. Closing his eyes, he eased his weight onto his shaky legs. He teetered a moment, steadying himself with one hand on the bed. A smile of triumph curled his lips.


Hot dang! I’m standin’ up.


“What the hell are you doing out of that bed?” Scott roared from the doorway.


Johnny whirled to face the door and the room heaved around him. His knees buckled and he grasped at the bed to catch himself. He missed. The floor rose up and smacked the side of his face.


Ow! Maybe this wasn’t one of my better ideas… But I’d have been fine if Scott hadn’t hollered at me like that.


“Johnny!” Scott was at his brother’s side in two swift strides. Shaken to his core at seeing Johnny out of bed, he was horrified that his startled reaction had caused the fall. He sucked in a deep breath, running his hands over Johnny’s arms and legs to check him for injuries, and then lifted him, easing him onto the bed.


“Scott. Hey, don’t…” Johnny began to protest, but before he knew it, he was back in bed and wondering just how his brother had gotten him there so quickly. He’d spent an eternity getting to his feet and Scott had him back on the bed in seconds. He stared up into Scott’s mottled face and struggled to catch his breath.


He’s really mad. Scott don’t usually get red in the face. Only other person I know who can turn that color is the Old Man.


Seeing Johnny’s stunned expression recalled those dreadful hours of worry and loss, the sickening helplessness of knowing he was losing his brother and being unable to stop it. Scott’s innate protectiveness bubbled to the surface and fear and guilt flashed to anger in a delayed reaction to the whole nightmarish situation.


“Who said you could get out of this bed?” Scott demanded.


His brother’s raised voice rankled and Johnny glared at him. “I don’t need permission.”

“Wrong. You need the doctor’s permission—and you know he hasn’t given it.” Scott bent to examine the drain and incision with trembling fingers. He studied them closely, making sure there was no damage. “This looks fine. You’re lucky. That fall could easily have broken this drain or pulled it or your stitches out. Then you’d really have a reason to be afraid of Sam.”


“I ain’t afraid of Sam. If I wanna get out of bed, I will.” Johnny yanked the quilt up to cover himself.


What does it take to keep you in line, little brother? I’m going to put a stop to this reckless disregard for yourself right now.


Scott shook his finger under Johnny’s nose. “Wrong again. You will do as you are told, little brother.”


Johnny slapped the finger away, his temper rising fast. “Get your finger out of my face, unless you want to lose it. I won’t be treated like a child, Scott.”


“You will be treated like a child for as long as you act like one.” Scott’s voice rang with determination and authority.


That stern voice enraged Johnny and he thrust his legs back over the side of the bed.


“I’ll get out of this bed if I want to.” Johnny’s eyes dared his brother to stop him.


Scott put his hands on his hips. “Go ahead and try. Let’s see how far you get before you fall down again.”


Fury at Scott’s expression fueled the strength to stand. Johnny swayed on trembling knees, glaring at his brother. “Get out of my way.”


“Make me.” Scott refused to break eye contact. He forced his hands to stay on his hips, although they itched to grasp his brother’s shoulders and steady him. He allowed a slight smile to quirk the corners of his mouth. “You might want to wrap that blanket around your waist. I don’t mind your birthday suit, but Teresa might walk in at any minute.”


Johnny’s anger subsided along with his strength. He just wasn’t up to sparring—verbally or physically—with his brother. And he didn’t want to anyway. He was weary of being sick and detested the weakness that had left him totally dependant on others.


This is nuts. We’re both actin’ like little kids. And if I don’t sit down right quick, I’m gonna fall down—again.


He hung his head and sank down onto the mattress. He didn’t have the strength to lift his legs and huddled on the side of the bed, head bowed and shoulders slumped. He felt Scott’s hands easing him down onto the pillows, swinging his legs up and covering him with the quilt.


Scott felt Johnny’s forehead and that simple gesture tightened Johnny’s throat.


I scared him again. I didn’t mean to. But he don’t have to treat me like I’m Tommy’s age.


“Are you all right?” Scott wrung out a cloth in cool water and laid it over Johnny’s forehead.


The tenderness in Scott’s hands and voice tore at him. He could deal with his brother’s anger, but not his blatant concern. Disgust at his own behavior fanned the flames of his temper. “Get out,” Johnny growled.


Scott sat on the edge of the bed. The defiance blazing across Johnny’s face reminded him of a sullen child. It was time to explain a few facts of life to his little brother. “Not yet. You and I are going to have a little talk first. No, that’s not true. I will talk and you will listen.”


“Scott, I ain’t in no mood for this…”


“Neither am I, but it needs saying. So pay close attention, little brother, because I won’t tell you twice.”


Johnny muttered under his breath and made a point of turning his head away from Scott.

/Don’t use that ‘commanding officer’ tone with me, Boston.


Scott rolled his eyes in exasperation. Johnny looked absurdly young against the mound of pillows and his willful stubbornness tempted Scott to carry through with his threat to cut a switch. The mutinous lines of his brother’s body prompted him to lash out verbally.


“Sam made it clear that you weren’t to get out of bed for another couple of weeks. You just had to defy him, didn’t you? Johnny Lancer thinks he knows better than anyone else.”


He forced Johnny to look at him. “Let’s go over the facts, shall we?” He ticked off his points on his fingers. “You were ill and you knew it. Yet you hid it from us. You lied to the people who care about you—”




“I am not finished. Be quiet and listen. You lied to yourself and your stupid pride almost killed you. Do you have any idea how close you came to dying? Do you?”


Johnny met Scott’s eyes for a moment and turned his head away.


“God, Johnny. I had to listen to you calling out to me, to Murdoch…begging us to help you. And there was absolutely nothing we could do. Do you remember how you felt watching Tommy jump in front of Smoky?”


Johnny nodded miserably. Oh boy, did he remember that.


“Well, watching you fighting to stay alive was ten times worse. And it wasn’t just seeing you so sick and waiting for you to take your last breath. That was bad enough, but watching others grieve for you…” Scott brushed the hair from Johnny’s forehead.


“First, there was Murdoch. I’ve never seen our father break down, but he did when he thought he was going to lose you again. And Jelly, it almost broke his heart, but he couldn’t show it because he had to take care of Murdoch and me. Then there was Tommy. Johnny, he begged you not to die. He clung to you, scared that if he let you go…” Scott paused and leaned his head back, fighting the lump in his throat.


“I’m sorry.”


“Let’s not forget Maria. She helped Sam with your surgery, kept us organized, and did her crying in private so she wouldn’t upset us. God only knows what Teresa went through coming home—not knowing what was happening to you. I’m glad she wasn’t here because it would have broken her heart to see you like that.”




“I distinctly remember telling you that you honor your family’s love by respecting your own life. But I guess it went in one ear and out the other.” He stood abruptly and began pacing beside the bed.


“You’re like a homing pigeon—you find trouble every time. Well, no more, Johnny. From now on, you will obey the rules the rest of us live by. I’m drawing the line and you will toe it. Starting now, you will—like it or not—do as you are told.” Scott halted by the bed and glanced down at his brother’s bowed head.


I think I’m getting through that hard head. At least he’s listening.


“I know you hate being told what to do. Tough. That’s the price you pay for having a family that cares about what happens to you.”


Color flamed across Johnny’s cheeks and he glanced up at Scott, quickly returning his gaze to his hands.


Scott bit back a smile. “Sam said you were to stay in that bed and, God help me, you will do just that.” He bent to smooth the blanket, pulling it higher to cover Johnny’s bare shoulders.


“That’s all I’ve got to say. Now, you don’t want me in the room and I don’t want to be in the same room as a selfish, thoughtless, stubborn, and unruly BOY.” He turned on his heel and strode to the door, pausing as Johnny called after him.




Scott forced himself to ignore that pleading voice, stalking through the door and slamming it behind him. If he looked Johnny in the face, his brother would see right through his subterfuge. He’d come down hard on the boy, but Johnny needed to understand that his illness impacted all of them.

I must have a discussion with Sam about how to keep him in line.


“You forgot ‘headstrong’—Sam likes that one!” Johnny shouted after Scott.


The door opened and he turned his head eagerly, expecting to see his brother. But the mammoth form looming over the bed, arms folded across his chest, was his father. Johnny sighed and waited for the next lecture. The silence was deafening and he squirmed beneath Murdoch’s intense gaze. The man fairly radiated disapproval.


Murdoch broke the uncomfortable silence. “Well?”


“I got out of bed.” Johnny said meekly.


“I see.” Murdoch pulled the quilt back and examined the drain and stitches. “Did you fall?”


“Yeah.” Johnny closed his eyes, preparing for the peal about to be rung over his head.


“Are you all right?”




“You won’t be doing that again, will you, son?” Murdoch’s voice carried a hint of amusement.


Johnny shot an astonished glance at Murdoch’s face. “No, sir.”


“See that you don’t, young man.” Murdoch ruffled his hair and walked out the door, leaving Johnny feeling alone, ashamed, and much like a child sent to stand in the corner.


He spent the next long and lonely hour pondering Scott’s lecture. Johnny didn’t like being on the receiving end of Scott’s wrath. He’d grown used to his brother’s support and understanding, but this time he’d disappointed Scott. That was hard to accept—Scott’s opinion mattered to him.


That’s what I get for lettin’ myself care about somebody. Now I gotta worry ‘bout what he thinks. I don’t like disappointin’ folks.


Wish he’d come back and give me a chance to explain. I know it ain’t the smartest thing I ever done. Shoulda seen Sam. Woulda if I’d known what was gonna happen. Never meant to put my family through so much worry…


I never mean to, but somehow I always do. Why can’t I just do like I’m told? See, that’s it—I don’t like bein’ told what to do. Now if they’d asked me ‘stead of makin’ it an order—no, I’d have done the same.


Sorry, Scott. Sure wish you’d come back and talk about it with me. I didn’t mean it when I said I wanted you to get out.


He fidgeted, rolling his head restlessly. The nasal tube slapped against the pillow and he glared at it. That piece of rubber was a tangible reminder of his weakness and need for help.


I hate that thing.


He sighed and jerked his head away from it. Scott was determined that the tube would stay in place until Sam took it out. It seemed important to his brother—important enough to lay down the law about it.


Well, if it’s so darned important, he oughta be in here makin’ sure I don’t pull it out. He knows I want to. Serve him right if I did…


No. Pullin’ it out would really rile him.


Johnny stared at Scott’s empty chair and replayed his brother’s words in his head. He swelled with indignation as he recalled Scott’s preemptory tone of voice and accusations. He couldn’t remember ever seeing his brother so worked up. Scott seemed to think Johnny had lied to him.


I never lied to him. Never. Why does he think I did?


His brother wouldn’t even give him a chance to explain. Johnny’s temper smoldered. A small voice whispered that Scott was right and he quenched it resolutely. Right or not, Scott had no business treating him like a little boy.


Who the hell does he think he is? General Lancer barks orders and I’m supposed to just hop to it. Bawlin’ me out like some kid. I don’t need him lookin’ out for me. Got along just fine without him for lotsa years. Damn him anyhow.


The tube tickled the back of his throat and he glowered at the tip of it with revulsion. He was vividly aware of its alien presence inside him, its cold rigidity symbolizing the sudden rift between him and his brother.


Aw, to hell with it. This thing is comin’ out now.


Johnny reached up and tentatively tugged on the loathed tube. The pressure at the back of his nose startled him, bringing tears to his eyes. He gulped a deep breath and assured himself that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as having a bullet dug out.


He pulled slowly, inching the tube out. His throat rebelled and he gagged time and again, choking and fighting off the urge to cough—his still tender stomach didn’t handle coughing to good. Finally, the entire snake-like length lay coiled on his chest.


Johnny smiled in triumph, proud of his effort and resolve. His throat and nose felt raw and scraped, but he’d gotten the thing out. He didn’t need it and now he’d prove it. Let Scott be mad.


No, he ain’t gonna be mad—gonna be disappointed in me again. He’ll give me that sorrowful look and shake his head…


And what am I gonna tell Murdoch…and Sam? They’ll notice it’s out right off. Oh boy, I shoulda thought about that before. Sam will go through the roof. Damn. Scott’s right—I’m like a homin’ pigeon findin’ trouble. Now what do I do?


Johnny thought furiously, seeking an answer to his problem. There just wasn’t one. He’d behaved like a defiant child and that’s all there was to it. Wishing he hadn’t wasn’t going to make things right. He was in for more tongue lashings—sure as shootin’. And he deserved every word.


He jumped guiltily when the door opened and steeled himself for Scott’s reaction. Blue eyes widened in dismay as he watched his father and…


Great. That’s done it. Of all people, it had to be Sam. This was not a good idea, Johnny.


He lay back and waited for the eruption. Both men’s eyes fixed immediately on the coiled tube. Johnny cringed at the disbelief on his father’s face.

Well, that could have been a lot worse.


The doctor’s expression changed from his usual one of warm compassion to disbelief and then…


Ai yi yi. The fixes I get into. I’m in trouble now.


There were only two men alive who could consistently make Johnny Madrid Lancer feel like a naughty little boy—and they were both scowling down at him.


Wish the ground would open up and swallow me—or them!


Murdoch found his voice first. “Johnny,” he bellowed.


“I…it fell out…” Johnny stammered.


Now I’m lyin’ to him. A real whopper, too. It just keeps gettin’ worse.


Murdoch raised his eyebrows. “Fell out?” The disbelief on his face rang through in his voice.


Sam tapped Murdoch’s shoulder and pointed toward the door. His scorching eyes never wavered from Johnny’s face. “Leave him to me, Murdoch.”






Sam’s molten voice sent a shudder down Johnny’s spine. He had an irrational urge to beg Murdoch to stay and not leave him to the mercy of the irate doctor. Watching his father leave the room, Johnny felt as though his last friend in the world was abandoning him to his fate. He wished desperately that he could follow Murdoch.


He could feel Sam’s eyes singeing him and jumped as the doctor snatched the tube from his chest.


“Well?” Sam growled.


“It hurts my throat…and it ain’t makin’ me no stronger.” Johnny looked down and began pleating the edge of the quilt with his fingers. He took a deep breath—the next tongue-lashing was about to commence.


Oh boy, this ain’t gonna be pretty.


Sam opened his mouth to scarify Johnny, but the boy’s defiant words, stormy expression, and restless fingers halted him. He’d already heard an earful about his patient’s increasing rebellion from a remorseful Scott. He wasn’t surprised that Johnny had tried to get out of bed and removed the NG tube. It was time to have a discussion with the family about how the aftermath of a serious illness often evoked atypical emotions and behavior. The hard-headed Lancer clan needed some guidance on coping with the situation. Thank heaven he could count on Teresa’s help.


Teresa. Her hastily whispered comments gave him cause for concern. According to her, Johnny was worried about his rate of recovery. The risk of his patient becoming despondent and depressed was very real and Sam resolved to prevent it. Looking closer at the young man, he shelved the blistering reproach he had planned. Scott’s words had obviously hit Johnny hard, so Sam decided to pull his punches. Right now Johnny needed an understanding doctor more than he needed another father figure. He slid the chair closer to the bed and sat down.


“Is that your diagnosis, Dr. Lancer?” He kept his tone amused, yet infused with concern. Sam proceeded to feel Johnny’s forehead before clasping his wrist to check his pulse.


“Sam, all I do is sleep. I ain’t gettin’ better.” Johnny responded to the doctor’s approach, astounded that the expected tirade wasn’t raining down on his head.


“Well, let’s take a look at you.” Sam peeled back the quilt and examined the drain, dressings, and stitches; paying close attention to the infected area.


Johnny winced as the doctor’s fingers probed at the incision.


Sam pulled the quilt up over Johnny’s waist and sat back in his chair, studying the gaunt face. He sensed that the boy was scared and hiding it behind a mask of bravado and defiance. The doctor knew Johnny had ample experience in the use of such masks. This particular one told Sam that his patient needed some reassurance.


“You have an infection and slight fever, Johnny. That’s why you’re feeling so tired. I think we can clear it up quickly.” He laid his hand on Johnny’s forearm. “I know you’re discouraged, but you’re actually doing very well.”


Johnny stared up at him. “It don’t feel that way, Sam.”


Sam nodded. “This is the first real opportunity we’ve had to talk since your surgery. You must understand that this is not the same thing as an injury. You can’t expect to bounce back in the same way you’ve experienced in the past.” He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs.


“Sleep is your body’s way of healing itself. It’s been through quite a bit of trauma. This time last week…well, frankly, I didn’t think you’d make it through the night. The fact that you’re able to actually stand up and then remove that nasal tube is a strong indication that you’re recovering. I’m pleased with your progress.”


“Yeah? You think I’m makin’ progress?” Johnny searched Sam’s face for any sign that the doctor was stretching the truth.


“Yes, great progress. You’re much stronger and more alert than the last time I saw you. You slept right through my visit then.”


Johnny met Sam’s eyes. “It just seems like I oughta feel stronger, you know?”


“I know it seems that way to you, but we’re not talking about simply waiting for your body to replace blood loss. Your recovery from this illness and the surgery is more complicated than that. Overcoming that ruptured appendix depleted all of your body’s reserves. They must be replenished now.” Sam gripped Johnny’s shoulder. “You don’t want to hear this, but it is going to take time.


“You’re stronger than I expected you to be at this point, Johnny. The fact is that you’re improving daily. And if you’ll follow your doctor’s orders, you’ll continue to get better.”


Johnny flashed him an impudent grin. “Aw, Sam. You know I ain’t much good at takin’ orders.”


Sam judged the time ripe to change his bedside manner to that of stern physician. “I’m well aware of that, young man, and here’s the proof.” He held up the discarded nasal tube. “I don’t give medical orders on a whim. I expect you to follow my advice.”


He dangled the tube in front of Johnny’s nose. “This helped keep you alive and you still need it, regardless of what you think. I’m not taking any chances with this infection, Johnny. I’m going to replace this with another one and you’re going to leave it in place until I decide to remove it.”


“C’mon, Sam…” Johnny gaped at him in dismay. He’d been so determined to get rid of the tube that he’d never imagined Sam might put it back in.


“This is not a subject for negotiation. You need it and it goes in.” Sam was fully aware of the effect he had on Johnny and determined to use it to his advantage. He stood up so that he could look down at his patient. “You do anything else to cross me and you will be very sorry. Is that clear, John?”


“Yes, sir,” Johnny promised, swallowing hard. He stared nervously up at Sam, waiting for the sermon. There had to be more, he just knew it.


“Do I have to post a twenty-four hour guard on you? We turn our backs for a few minutes and you--”


Johnny mumbled something and Sam’s hackles rose. “What did you say?”


Johnny flushed, but he knew better than to ignore Sam. “I ain’t ever gonna turn MY back on you again, Doc!”


Sam saw the twinkle in Johnny’s eye. It was wonderful to see it there, but the boy wasn’t going to charm his way out of what he’d done.


Sam put his hands on his hips. “If you ever give me reason to see YOUR backside again, boy, it will be over my knee while I give you a taste of what you deserve for pulling such a stunt.”


Johnny looked away. “I’m sorry, Sam.”


“I know you are.” Sam sat on the edge of the bed. “Johnny, you’re experiencing some confusing emotions right now. That’s perfectly normal when you’ve been through an illness such as yours. You can expect to feel angry, frustrated, discouraged…and you may say or do things you ordinarily wouldn’t.”


He picked up one of the folded towels beside the bed and began wiping and coiling the discarded nasal tube. “Your family is going through the same thing—especially your brother and father. It’s going to be all right. You’ll get through it together.”


“I hope so.” Johnny’s voice dripped with dejection.


Sam gripped the boy’s shoulder again. “You and your brother bumped heads, didn’t you?”


“Yeah.” Johnny’s face pleaded for understanding. “He thinks I lied to him, Sam. But I didn’t.”


“Coming so close to losing you scared him to death, Johnny. Now, he’s going through those same conflicting emotions you are. The two of you will work it out.”


“Reckon you’re right.”


“Of course I’m right. I’m the doctor.”  He returned Johnny’s quick smile. “Why does Scott think you lied to him?”


“He says I hid bein’ sick from him, told him I was fine when I knew I wasn’t.” Johnny sighed. “But that ain’t true.”


“I believe you.” Sam bent closer and met Johnny’s eyes. “Johnny, your brother is blaming himself for not realizing how sick you were. He even left you. Can you understand why he might make those remarks to you?”


Johnny gazed at Sam, turning the doctor’s words over in his mind. His face brightened. “Yeah. Reckon I can.”


Satisfied, Sam sat up straight. “Now talk to me, son. Why in the world did you wait so long to send for me when you got sick?”


“I didn’t know I was sick.”




“It’s true.” Johnny sighed, fingers pleating the edge of the quilt. “See, I was having these nightmares and they made me sick—throwin’ up and all.”


“Your father told me.” Sam laid a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “I wish you’d felt able to talk to me about them.”


“I…I figured I could deal with them. I always have before.”


Sam nodded. “I know you have.” He smoothed the quilt beneath Johnny’s fingers. “Johnny, your nightmares aren’t unusual. You’ve survived some horrific experiences…” He met Johnny’s eyes and they both glanced away. Sam looked back first.


“I’m surprised you’ve been able to suppress them as long as you have. I know you’ve talked to Murdoch. You keep talking to him. I believe that will stop those dreams. If it doesn’t, please talk to me. Okay?”




“So the nightmares were making you sick.” Sam laid a cool wet cloth on Johnny’s forehead. “That’s an understatement. You weren’t eating or sleeping, were you?”


“No. I…I wasn’t feelin’ good.” Johnny met Sam’s eyes. “But Sam, every time I got some decent sleep, I felt better. I figured that if I could just control the nightmares and start sleepin’…well, I thought I’d be all right.”


Sam read the sincerity on Johnny’s face. “Yes, I can understand how you might have mistaken the early signs of appendicitis as symptoms of the nightmares. But, Johnny, you must have been in agony as your appendix reached the crisis stage. Surely you knew it was more than the nightmares then.”


Johnny stared at his hands and began pleating the quilt again. “Yeah. But I needed to talk to Murdoch. I…that was kinda important.” He raised his eyes to meet Sam’s, a flash of defiance peeking out. “And I did ask for you Sam. When it got really bad, I knew I needed you and I asked. But you were with Jake.”


“Yes I was. I wish I’d been able to come as soon as you asked.” He gripped Johnny’s hand. “I know that discussion with your father was important. What I want you to understand is that whenever you have that kind of pain, your body is telling you something is wrong. Next time, listen to it.”




“I know this is hard for you, Johnny. You don’t like depending on others, but that doesn’t make you any less of a man. Admitting you need help takes courage and I know you don’t lack that. So you think on what I’ve told you and show that courage by letting your family take care of you now. And by following your doctor’s orders!”


“Thanks, Sam…for what you done for me…for my family. I heard what you said and I’ll…I’ll do as I’m told.”


Sam smiled at the suddenly contrite young man in front of him. He didn’t think for a minute that Johnny could hold fast to his promise, but he believed the boy would try. That was enough.


“Good. Now let’s get this drain and those stitches out.”


Johnny gasped. “Now?”


“Yes, now. Or do you want to take them out yourself?” Sam couldn’t keep a straight face after one glimpse of the horrified expression on Johnny’s face.


“That ain’t funny, Sam.”


“No and neither was removing that tube.”


“Is it gonna hurt?” Johnny thought it prudent to change the subject. The tube had caused enough trouble for one day. And Sam was going to stuff another one down his throat!


“It might. Then again, I might decide to forgive you for being so troublesome.”


“Oh forgive me, Sam. Please?” Johnny laughed.


Sam shook his head. He couldn’t stay annoyed at this boy for long. “You may feel a pulling sensation, but it will be uncomfortable rather than painful. Ready?”


“Let her buck.” Johnny closed his eyes and held his breath.


Sam deftly snipped away the stitches, working adeptly over the infected areas, and removed the drain. “All done.”


Johnny opened one eye. “Was that it? You know Sam, I coulda done that myself…” his voice trailed off as Sam glared at him.


“This incision must be cleaned out. Maybe you’d like to take care of that, Dr. Lancer?”


Johnny groaned and closed his eye again. He’d known it couldn’t be that easy. “Nope.”



Sam laid the end of the nasal tube on the pillow next to Johnny’s head and straightened. “Now that wasn’t so bad.”


Johnny thought Sam sounded disappointed and gave him a wry look. This was a definite case of ‘how it looks depends on where you stand.’ Sam wasn’t the one who’d had to swallow that fire hose.


Sam ignored him and used a syringe to withdraw a small amount of fluid through the tube. He dripped the contents onto a square piece of blue paper and Johnny’s eyes widened in amazement as the paper turned pink.


“This tells me it’s definitely in your stomach.” Sam held up the paper.


“I coulda told you that.” Johnny drooped against his pillows, drained by the events of the morning. The warmth from Sam’s poultice soothed the fierce sting remaining from the ordeal of cleaning and sterilizing the incision wound. The back of his throat and nose burned and every breath chafed his raw throat. He still felt the urge to gag and his eyelids weighed heavily.


Sam infused medication into the tube. “I’d better not find this one out,” he held the end of the tube where Johnny could see it, “before I decide to remove it.”


“I swear, Sam, I won’t even look at it,” Johnny hastened to assure the doctor.


“See that you don’t, because you wouldn’t believe the instruments of torture I carry in this bag.” Sam gestured toward his medical bag.


“Oh, yes I would…not that you need instruments to inflict torture.” Johnny grinned and Sam found himself grinning back.


Sam’s mood turned serious again and he laid his hand on Johnny’s. “You’re going to be just fine, Johnny. You’ll sleep a lot over the next couple of days. Don’t worry about that, you need the rest. We’ll clear up this infection and you’ll start to feel stronger. In fact, I think you’ll be strong enough to sit in your chair in another week.”


Johnny’s head jerked up in excitement. “Really, Sam? Not another two weeks?”


“We’ll have to see. If you do as you’re told and keep improving like you have been, then I don’t see any reason why not. Once the fever is gone, I want you sitting up in bed for longer periods and we’ll get you eating something more substantial than beef tea or barley water. But I will make the final determination. Agreed?”


“You call the tune, Doc.”


Sam hid a smile at the jubilation on Johnny’s face.


He looks like a convict whose sentence was just cut in half. Knowing Johnny, he probably feels that way, too.


Both of their heads turned at the imperious rap on the door. Murdoch didn’t wait for an invitation, entering on the echo of his knock. He strode to the bed and examined his son with anxious eyes, one big hand brushing the top of Johnny’s head.


“Sorry, Sam, but you’ve been in here so long…” his voice trailed off when he noticed the replaced nasal tube. “Did he put up a fight?”


“Oh, it crossed his mind,” Sam winked at Johnny, “but he knows better than to argue with me.”


“I’d rather argue with an angry rattler,” Johnny said seriously, meeting Sam’s amused gaze.


“You remember that, young man. Now Murdoch, I’ve removed that drain so if you have any more trouble from this boy of yours, just put him across your knee.”


Murdoch snickered and Johnny grinned at Sam. “He’d have to catch me first, Doc—and he ain’t as young as he used to be.”


Sam laughed, making note of the fond indulgence on Murdoch’s face. Yes, Johnny’s discussion with his father had been important. Those two had been at cross purposes long enough. At least some good could come of this situation if it served to bring father and son closer together. And Johnny was definitely getting better—his sense of humor was certainly back in form.


The doctor smoothed the quilt across Johnny’s shoulders. “Go to sleep now, Johnny. You’ve had a busy morning. And don’t be concerned if you sleep the rest of the day. It’s what you need now.” He squeezed the boy’s shoulder and watched as Johnny’s eyelids fluttered.  


“Thanks, Sam.” Johnny’s eyes closed and he drifted into sleep.


Sam grabbed his bag and threw an arm around Murdoch’s shoulders, shepherding him from the room. “He’s all right, Murdoch. Let’s go downstairs and let him get some rest. I want to talk to you and the rest of the family.”





Early evening…


Scott hesitated outside Johnny’s door, still unsure of how to approach his brother. He’d said far more than he meant to that morning and the memory of the bewildered, lost expression on Johnny’s face had preyed on his mind all afternoon. A lengthy discussion with Sam had helped him understand why he’d lashed out—and why Johnny had behaved so childishly. His respect for the doctor rose another notch as he considered the man’s deft handling of his brother and the time and care he’d taken to explain matters to the family. They were lucky to have a man of Sam’s skill and compassion as their doctor—and their friend.


Sam says uncharacteristic behavior and emotions are normal under these circumstances. Hard to believe that anything about the Lancer family is normal.


He took a deep breath and knocked, entering at Murdoch’s invitation. He held up the mug of broth he carried. “Johnny’s supper.”


Murdoch met Scott’s eyes and read the request there. He pulled himself out of the chair. “He’s still asleep—hasn’t stirred all afternoon. The poultice is drawing the infection nicely.” He indicated the kettle simmering on the small stove. “Make sure it stays warm. He still has some fever, but it hasn’t risen. I’ll leave you alone with him.”


“Thank you, sir. Oh, don’t wait supper for me. I want to sit with him for a while.”


Murdoch smiled and left Scott with his brother and the nervous anticipation of the apology he needed to deliver.


Scott set the mug on the bedside table and replaced the cloth on Johnny’s forehead with a fresh, cool one. As he combed the dark hair back, Johnny’s eyes blinked open.




“I’m here, Johnny.”


“What time…how long…” Johnny fought the grogginess.


“Take it easy.” Scott sat on the edge of the bed and clasped Johnny’s hand. “It’s supper time. You’ve been asleep since Sam left.” He held up the mug with his other hand. “I brought you some broth. Feel like drinking some?”


Johnny nodded and struggled to sit up. Scott’s instincts shrieked to help him, but he remembered Sam’s advice and forced himself to remain still.


Sam said to let Johnny try to do things for himself, to give him a chance to ask for help. We just have to use good judgment about what we let him try to do.


He watched the look of defeat darken Johnny’s face. His brother lay back and swallowed hard. The blue eyes met his.


“Ah…I…will you…help me sit up?” Johnny stammered.


Scott grinned at him. “No problem, brother.” He slid Johnny higher on the pillows, plumping and arranging them behind his back.


“Scott…” “Johnny…” They both spoke at the same time, pausing and sharing nervous smiles at their awkwardness.


Johnny recovered first. “I’m sorry, Scott.”


“Now what do you have to be sorry for?” Scott drawled, sliding his hand around Johnny’s.


“For actin’ like a selfish, thoughtless, stubborn, and unruly boy.”


“You forgot headstrong.” Scott squeezed Johnny’s hand.


“Yeah…and headstrong.” Johnny looked away from Scott, he didn’t like being on the wrong side of his brother.


Scott leaned forward. “Are you okay? You’ve grown really pale, Johnny.”


“Yeah. I’m just tired. Reckon I did too much…Sam was right, you were right, I was…” He trailed off and stared at his hands. “Reckon you are the oldest and wisest brother. If Tommy was still here, he’d be sure to tell me that.”


“Hey, you were just being Johnny Lancer.” Scott tousled his brother’s hair. “That Tommy is one smart boy. He recognizes brains when he sees them.” He arranged a napkin under Johnny’s chin. “Just in case you miss your mouth.”


“That ain’t likely, is it, brother…the size of it…” Johnny accepted the mug from Scott and took a sip of the broth.


Scott helped him hold the mug, careful to let his brother do as much for himself as possible. The silence between them remained strained, but Scott wanted Johnny to drink the entire mug before they started to talk. It took some time, but his brother was able to down the contents. Johnny slumped back against the pillows with a satisfied smile on his face.


“Great, Johnny, you drank it all. You are getting better—you weren’t able to finish it yesterday.”


“Reckon so. Sam said I was, and he’ll be the first to tell you that he don’t make mistakes.”


The brothers shared a laugh and Scott straightened the quilt across Johnny’s waist. It was his turn now. He drew in a deep breath.


“Johnny, I’m sorry for going on at you this morning. I had no business saying all those things to you. I…well, I just don’t want to see you ill again.” He rested his other hand on Johnny’s shoulder.


Johnny’s hand covered Scott’s. “I know, Scott. I’m sorry I scared you all.”


“I don’t want you to be sorry. I want you to get well.” Scott met Johnny’s anxious eyes.


“I will. Sam and Murdoch both said so and I don’t dare cross either one of ‘em.” Johnny grinned at him and then ducked his head. He swallowed hard and raised his eyes to Scott’s. “Ah…look Scott, I never lied to you. I thought I was feelin’ sick because of the nightmares and I thought I could beat ‘em.”


“I know, Johnny. ‘Lie’ wasn’t a good choice of words on my part.” He looked away. “I sometimes have a problem with your ‘I can make it’ attitude—especially when you know you can’t make it.”


Johnny gripped Scott’s forearm hard and waited until his brother’s gaze met his. “That’s what you don’t understand, Scott. See, I always think I can make it.” He looked down at the quilt around his waist. “Reckon I ain’t been able to think any other way before now.”


Scott sighed and stroked the dark hair. Why hadn’t he realized that? Johnny had kept himself alive by always figuring out a way to ‘make it.’ Of course he believed that he could—even against impossible odds. He’d be dead if he thought any other way.


His mind replayed flashes of memories: Johnny and Barranca in full flight, brazenly outrunning Pardee’s entire gang; Johnny shot down, rolling as he smashed to the ground; his brother pulling himself to his feet, leaning against the tree—“I can make it”; Johnny’s face pleading with him through the bars of a jail cell as Scott enumerated the odds against them—“I’ve had worse.”


Johnny had stayed alive because he wouldn’t accept the alternative. He had to make it and so he did. There were times when being stubborn and headstrong meant the difference between living and dying. He was suddenly glad that Johnny possessed both of those traits.


“You’re right, Johnny. I didn’t understand. I made an assumption and I was wrong.” He smiled as Johnny’s startled gaze met his. “I’m sorry.”




“No, it isn’t. But thanks for accepting my apology.” He felt Johnny’s hand tighten on his and relief flooded through him. They were going to be all right.


Johnny yawned and Scott removed the napkin. “You want to lie down again?”


Johnny nodded. “Yeah, but I can do it myself.” He shimmied himself down on the bed and flashed Scott a triumphant grin. “I can lie down better than I can sit up.”


Scott acknowledged his accomplishment with a teasing snort. “Oh, how well I know how much you enjoy lying down on the job, little brother.”


The appreciative expression on Johnny’s face told him all he needed to know. He savored the closeness between them for a moment, stifling a smile as Johnny wasn’t able to keep his eyes open. Scott shifted position and started to stand, intending to sit in the armchair.


Johnny’s hand gripped his arm. “Stay here by me for a minute?”


“Sure.” Scott settled himself back onto the mattress.


Johnny closed his eyes again. “That story you told me…when you told me to fight for our dream…”


“Yes?” Scott marveled once again that Johnny had actually heard those words. Yet his brother had mentioned the story several times—there was no doubt he’d heard and understood Scott.


“You didn’t finish it.”


“No. I didn’t know then how it would end.”


“So, is it a happy ending?” Johnny yawned again and his head lolled on the pillow.


“Yes, it is. You see, fate and the wild rose’s son waged a terrible battle for the destiny of the dream. Their fight shook the foundations of the kingdom, defeat seemed inevitable, and all hope waned. But the wild rose’s son refused to be vanquished and the other keepers of the kingdom rode with him into battle. Fate lost, the dream won, and the wild rose’s son stood victorious beside his father and brother in their kingdom.”


Johnny squeezed Scott’s hand. “Sounds like a happy ending to me,” he whispered as sleep claimed him again and his grip slackened.


Scott arranged Johnny’s hands on his chest and eased himself off the bed and into the armchair. “Not the fairy tale ‘happily ever after’ ending, but happy just the same.”


He leaned back in the armchair and grinned as he watched the easy rise and fall of Johnny’s chest. “There’ll be other battles within and over the kingdom, Johnny, but you don’t have to fight alone anymore.”



The door creaked open and Teresa peeked inside. For a moment, she watched Johnny sleep and then headed for the chairs by the window, motioning for Scott to join her. Scott grinned when he realized she held a snifter of brandy.


Teresa held the glass out to him. “I thought you might need this.”


“You take wonderful care of us, Teresa. Thank you.” He sank down in the chair and twirled the glass in his hands, watching the tawny liquor clinging to the sides.


Teresa settled herself on another chair and quietly observed him, not missing the significance of his restless motions. Scott was always in control, exuding calm competence. He’d seemed preoccupied the entire afternoon. After Sam had spoken with the family, Scott closeted himself with the doctor for some time.


She suspected he’d had words with Johnny that morning. No doubt his brother deserved them. Johnny had been so despondent and frustrated with himself—ripe for rebellion. And Scott was so concerned, still unable to believe his brother was alive. He was in no mood to accept anything but meek compliance from Johnny. But neither of those words described his younger sibling and certainly not now.


Teresa believed she could read both of them accurately and there was no question that Scott was berating himself for the trip to Fresno. She may not have attended Harvard, but she could add: one caring and guilty blond Lancer + one scared and frustrated dark-haired Lancer = angry words. She studied Scott’s face, trying to divine his frame of mind. He seemed subdued and she couldn’t decide if he’d made his peace with Johnny and was still troubled or if they were still mad at each other.


“Are you going to look at it all night or drink it?” She prompted.


Scott shook himself out of his contemplation and took an appreciative sip of the brandy. “That hits the spot.”


“I’m glad.” She cocked her head toward the bed. “How is he this evening?”


“He’s knocked out. He had a full day—getting out of bed, falling, hearing a lecture from me, pulling out his feeding tube, facing Sam, having the drain and stitches removed, getting another feeding tube inserted…”


Scott took another quick sip. “He was able to drink that entire mug of broth, though. I think he’s stronger.”


“He is better if he got that whole mug down.” She leaned toward him, resting her hand on Scott’s forearm. “We’re going to get him well, Scott. Please don’t worry.”


His free hand covered hers. “I believe that—now that you’re home.” He swirled another sip around in his mouth before swallowing it. “What Sam told us this afternoon made a lot of sense.”


“I’ve always thought of the doctor as ‘Sensible Sam.’ Of course he can be ‘No Nonsense Sam,’ too.” She giggled at a memory of Sam haranguing a recalcitrant Murdoch Lancer—who refused to follow the doctor’s orders during his convalescence for the wound from Pardee’s bullet.


Scott glanced at her quizzically.


“I’m just thinking about how it took ‘No Nonsense Sam’ to force your father to stay in bed after Pardee shot him. Murdoch and Johnny are more alike than either of them will admit.”


“Yes, they are.” Scott nodded. But his smile faded and he swirled the brandy around the glass.


Teresa grasped his hand impulsively. “What’s the matter, Scott?”


He looked up, a half-smile on his face. “Am I that obvious?”


“No. Then again, I know you pretty well.”


“Jelly was right. You do have eyes like an owl.” He tossed off the rest of the brandy.


“Well, this owl is asking what, not who.” She waited for him to acknowledge the humor, but his eyes stayed hooded, studying the empty glass. “Are you still beating yourself up because you went to Fresno?”


He met her shrewd glance, startled. “Ah…no. I still…well, I still wish I hadn’t gone. Then again, Johnny and Murdoch finally talked. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened if I were here.”


“That’s a good point. So why are you moping around?”


“Johnny said something to me tonight…”


Teresa’s grip on Scott’s arm tightened. “Oh Scott, you heard Sam say Johnny isn’t himself. Don’t let something he said upset you.”


He grinned at her. “You’re doing the same thing I did—assuming.” The smile faded. “It’s not something he said in anger.”


Teresa blushed, releasing Scott’s arm and brushing her hair back from her shoulders. “Sorry.”


He glanced at her and then back at the empty glass in his hands. “From the day I met Johnny, he’s had one habit that really gets to me. It’s that fierce independence, the way he always says ‘I can make it.’” Scott set the glass on the windowsill and began pacing with fluid strides.


“My little brother applies a different set of standards to himself.” He stopped in front of Teresa and gestured with his arms, palms upturned. “Ask anyone if they are ‘all right’ and they understand that the question implies a state of well-being.”


He resumed pacing, still gesturing. “But not my brother. Oh no, to him, ‘all right’ means ‘I’m still breathing. Could be worse.’” He stopped in front of Teresa again and threw up his hands. “He always says ‘I can make it.’”


“I don’t understand, Scott. I mean, I understand what you’re saying about Johnny. But, that attitude is just part of who he is. I can’t imagine him any other way.”


A tender smile curled Scott’s lips and he sat down. “No. That’s part of what makes him ‘Johnny.’ But Teresa…” he paused, searching for the appropriate words. “I believed he’d say ‘I can make it’ even if he didn’t think he could.”


Teresa bit her lip as understanding dawned. She moved nimbly to sit on the arm of Scott’s chair, one small hand gripping his shoulder. “You thought he lied to you about being ill.”


He cast her a look full of respect. “Yes. It never crossed my mind that he always believes he can make it.” He looked down at his hands. “When he said that to me…when I realized that he wouldn’t be alive today if he didn’t think that way…”


Teresa remained silent, watching the play of emotions across his face.


Scott’s hand found hers, still resting lightly on his shoulder. “He doesn’t have to think that way any longer. He will, I know, but I’m going to make sure he remembers that he has me—and the rest of this family—to rely on. He doesn’t have to make it alone.”


“He knows that, Scott. And he knows how fortunate he is to have you to rely on.” She hopped to her feet and picked up the empty glass. “You have the first watch tonight. Maria will be up at 11:00.”


Scott stood and swept her into a bear hug, dropping a light kiss on the top of her head. “Thanks, Teresa.”


He escorted her toward the door, but it opened before they reached it. Murdoch entered the room, nodding toward them and making a beeline for the bed. Scott and Teresa watched in increasing amusement as Murdoch satisfied himself that Johnny was okay.


He exchanged the cloth on Johnny’s forehead for a fresh one before joining them by the door. “Is he exhausted?”


Scott nodded. “Of course he is. But he was able to swallow that entire mug of broth by himself. I’ve given him more beef tea and sugar water through the tube. His fever spiked up a bit, but it’s back down now.”


“Good. Good. Well, I just wanted to check on him.” Murdoch seemed flustered when he realized they were both grinning at him. He wasted no time ducking out the door.


Teresa squeezed Scott’s arm. “I don’t know what happened between Johnny and Murdoch, but the outcome is marvelous.”


“I couldn’t agree more.”


The door eased open to admit Jelly. He nodded to Teresa and Scott and crept to the bed. They watched as he checked the poultice, straightened the quilt, and changed the cloth Murdoch had just replaced on Johnny’s forehead. He brushed Johnny’s hair back before walking over to Teresa and Scott.


“Boy plumb wore hisself out.” Jelly pretended not to notice their chuckles.


“He had a hard day.” Scott solemnly agreed.


“How’s that fever?”


Scott and Teresa exchanged glances and Scott put his hands on Jelly shoulders, turning him to face the door. “His fever is still there, but lower than it was.”


He began marching Jelly toward the door. “And if all of his ‘father hens’ would let him sleep undisturbed, it might be gone by morning.”


“Don’t be callin’ me no father hen. I just come in to be sure you didn’t need no help doctorin’ that fever,” Jelly huffed.


Scott grinned fondly at him. “Stop worrying. Johnny is going to be fine. You heard Sam say so yourself—got it straight from the horse’s mouth.”


Jelly wriggled his way out of Scott’s grip and thrust out his chin. “I’m goin’ ya smart aleck. Ain’t got no call to maul me around.”


He sneaked a last look at Johnny and drew himself up to his full height, looking Scott over from his head to his heels. “Oh, you…” He tilted his head to a belligerent angle. “’Course I got it from the horse’s mouth. Better from the horse’s mouth than a horse’s behind, I always say.”





3 days later…late afternoon…


Teresa paused at the top of the stairs as she caught sight of Scott. She balanced Johnny’s supper tray in one hand and pressed the other across her lips to hold back the laughter. Her hastily stifled chuckles caused Scott to turn toward her and motion for silence, holding one finger to his lips. He grinned at her struggle to control her mirth while managing the tray, crooking his finger to encourage her to join him.


She tiptoed toward him, eager to find out why Scott was skulking outside Johnny’s half-open door, shamelessly eavesdropping. His eyes, alight with laughter, met hers; one hand motioning for silence, the other relieving her of the tray and setting it aside on the hall table. He gripped her shoulders, turning her to face the door and positioning her in front of him. She watched his hand come over her shoulder, pointing through the partially open door.


“Look.” Scott’s rich voice came in a joyous whisper.


Teresa peeked through the opening and caught her breath. Johnny was sitting up in bed talking animatedly with Murdoch. She watched for several moments, noting the sparkle in Johnny’s eyes, the energy radiating from him, and the total attention and consideration he was receiving from his father. The excitement in his voice charged the entire room and Teresa’s heart warmed at the sound. She’d never heard Johnny use that tone to Murdoch before. As for her guardian, he listened intently to his son, nodding and interpolating an occasional encouraging remark.


She turned her head and looked up toward Scott. “Isn’t it lovely? What are they talking about?”


“They’re planning the horse business.”


“It sounds as though Johnny is doing the planning.”


“Yes. He’s really wound up. Murdoch’s listening to him and remembering what we talked about.”


“Shouldn’t you be in there, too?”


“I’ll go in later. I want the two of them to have some time together. Besides, Johnny doesn’t need any help.” He guided her a short distance from the door where they could speak softly without disturbing Johnny and Murdoch.


“I had no idea that Johnny knew so much about economic conditions in this state. Was there really a flood in ’62 followed by three years of hard drought?”


“Why, yes. I’ll never forget that.” Teresa tapped her chin, recalling those memories from her younger years. “Cipriano saved most of the Lancer stock. He convinced my father and Murdoch to drive them into the mountains.”


She pushed up the sleeves of her dress, lost in thought. “While the men were pushing the cattle and horses to higher pastures, Maria and Elena helped me and the other women and children load provisions and the chickens and smaller animals into carts and wagons. Then we had our own little wagon train following the men and livestock. Most of the valley ended up underwater. The first floor of the hacienda flooded.”


“You’d never know anything like that had happened to look at it now,” Scott marveled.


“No, but it took a lot of work to clean up the house. It was awful.” She grinned at him. “I’m glad I was just a child when it happened.”


Scott nodded, the smile on his face fading as he recalled where he had been and what he had been doing in ’62.


Teresa sensed his change in mood, but intuition told her that he wouldn’t share its cause with her. She continued her story in the same light tone. “After all that water, we had beautiful grazing conditions and the herds grew fat. The wildflowers were incredible.” She paused and shook her head sadly.


“Then we had almost no rain at all for nearly three years. There was some rain here in the valley, but we had to move the stock back into the mountains to save them. After that, Murdoch bought that mountain land.” She fell silent for a moment, remembering the cindered countryside littered with carcasses. “Most of the ranchos from Los Angeles to San Diego lost their entire herds, including many of their horses.”


“That must’ve been hard.” Scott bit his lip, thinking. “How would Johnny know about that? He was what—thirteen or so?”


“If he were anywhere near California at that time, he would know. And Scott, those years of drought killed off nearly half of the cattle in the state. That’s what brought in so many sheep from New Mexico. I’m sure Johnny fought in several range wars between sheepmen and cattlemen. He was bound to hear stories.”


“That makes sense.” Scott pushed himself away from the wall and gripped her upper arms, smiling. “I wish you’d heard Johnny explaining to Murdoch how times have changed.”


“Oh, so do I!”


Scott cleared his throat and mussed his hair, letting his ramrod-straight body posture droop into a parody of Johnny’s habitual slouch. He performed a passable imitation of his brother’s molasses-coated drawl, using his arms and hands in the same manner Johnny did. “I know…I know you built a cattle ranch. But times change, Old Man, and we gotta change with ‘em. Them high beef prices caused by the gold rush are past and gone. And what’s to say that the floods and droughts won’t happen again? If all we got is cattle, ain’t that the same as puttin’ all our eggs in one basket?


“All I’m sayin’ is that we oughta be able to make money offa more than beef. Diversify, ya know? I know how to make money catchin’, breakin’, and sellin’ wild horses and I can make even more breedin’ and trainin’ cowponies. Folks’ll pay upward of $150 for a colt I got workin’ cows. I’ll make the dinero and you and Scott will figure out how to keep it. Now don’t that make sense?”


Teresa pressed both hands over her mouth, shoulders shaking with laughter. When she could breathe again, she whispered, “That was wonderful, Scott. You sounded just like Johnny. Did he really say that?”


“Word for word.” Scott flushed with pleasure at her praise.


“But how did Murdoch take it? What did he say?”


“He got a bit red in the face, bit his tongue, and said, ‘Yes, that makes sense. Tell me your ideas.’”


Teresa’s eyes filled. “He’s really trying, isn’t he?”


Scott pulled her close and rested his chin against the top of her head. “Yes, he is.” He stepped back and wiped her eyes with his handkerchief. “I’m almost afraid to breathe—it might break the spell.”


“I don’t think so, Scott.” She caught his hand. “Nearly losing Johnny opened his eyes. I can see the difference in him. He’s opened the door in that wall he built around his heart and let Johnny come inside with the rest of us. It’s up to you and me to see that he doesn’t fall back into his old bad habits.”


Teresa picked up the tray and pressed it into Scott’s hands. “Now, why don’t you take your brother his supper? He needs to eat.”


Scott hesitated, tipping his head toward the bedroom. “I think he needs that more.”


Teresa gave him a push toward the door. “He needs that and he needs you. Go on in there and plan with them. Old habits die hard and you can see to it that Murdoch keeps behaving himself. And make sure Johnny eats.”


She pointed at the tray. “He’s getting more than broth this evening. I’ve given him bread softened in broth, fresh applesauce, and some milk.”


“This will put as big of a smile on his face as that nightshirt you let him have yesterday.” Scott surveyed the items on the tray. “When he took that tube out this morning, Sam promised Johnny more substantial fare. He’s looking forward to something besides broth.”


“Well then, make your brother happy and take it to him.” She motioned toward the door. “Oh, and Scott, I know how great it is to see Johnny and Murdoch this way. But remember, he’s still very weak, so don’t let him sit up too long. Feed him, get him to take a nap, and then talk more later this evening. Don’t forget to give him his medicine and keep checking to be sure the fever doesn’t return.”


Scott held the tray one handed and tweaked her nose. “Yes, Mother.”


He headed for the door, jumping and laughing as she swatted him across the behind. The tinkling of her laughter followed him into the room.


“Hey, little brother, how would you like some real food for a change?”



Murdoch stretched out his legs and crossed them at the ankles, relaxing as he listened to Johnny regaling Scott with ideas and plans. A contented smile kept twitching at the corners of his mouth, prompted by the warm knowledge that he’d never been privileged to see this side of his younger son before. Scott, Jelly, and Teresa had experienced it and now he had won that right for himself.


He sent up a small prayer of thanks that Scott and Teresa had convinced him to involve Johnny in the planning of the proposed horse venture rather than surprising the boy. He’d never forget the look on his younger son’s face when he had shared the news: a combination of disbelief, astonishment, gratitude, and unadulterated joy—a look he vowed to earn more often.


But it was more than a simple expression of love and excitement. There was respect in the blue eyes—the kind of respect a young man gives his father when he understands that he’s still a raw young ‘un with plenty to learn and even if he’s not happy about having to learn it, he accepts that his old man has some advice worth listening to. It reminded him of a wild colt that finally realizes how much easier life can be if he gives to the pressure of the rope instead of fighting it.


Pride surged within him as he listened to Johnny’s recital. When had his son learned to make such detailed, succinct plans? When had he become so responsible? Why hadn’t he noticed it before?


Lord knows I rode that boy with a tight rein and sharp spurs. I made him prove himself. Didn’t trust him—didn’t know if he had sand in him or not. I needed to see if he could obey orders, step up to the tough, thankless jobs and do them well. Wanted to see if he would accept responsibility.


I didn’t have to answer those same questions about Scott—his cavalry experience proved it for him. That and his willingness to do whatever he had to in order to learn how to be useful on this ranch. But Johnny fought me, raised doubts. Glad I was wrong. Rode him too hard and too long, but that’s over now.


He scratched an itchy spot between his shoulder blades by rubbing it along the back of the chair and turned his attention to the discussion between his sons. He could see the pride on Scott’s face, too. His older son had always believed in his brother, but Johnny was showing them both that he had the makings of a shrewd businessman in addition to his physical abilities.


Scott lounged in the other armchair, legs and feet resting on the bed beside his brother. “So you think that we need to supply a steady source of mounts to the army in order to make a wild horse gathering operation pay off.”




“Translate that for me—how many and how often?”


“I figure twice a year they’ll want a minimum of a hundred head. If our quality is right, we can name the time, make them work around our roundup and brandin’ plans.” Johnny swallowed a big spoonful of applesauce from the tray on his lap.


“You’re hoping they’ll give us a flexible schedule or you have reason to believe that they will?”


“It ain’t hope.” Johnny sat up straighter and met Scott’s curious gaze. “Last month I talked to a Major Jackson at Drum Barracks in San Pedro—after you told me that’s the army’s headquarters for southern California and the Arizona and New Mexico Territories.”


Murdoch pricked up his ears at this news and leaned forward eagerly. Johnny had certainly done his homework.


“And what did the good Major have to say?” Scott had to work to keep a grin off his face—both at Johnny’s enthusiasm as well as their father’s captivated reaction.


“They’re cryin’ for horses at all nine outposts across Arizona ‘cause of the Apaches. They can’t get enough and ain’t found a steady supplier. They’d love to do business with a known name like Lancer and they’re willin’ to deal on the terms and schedules to get a commitment from us.” The smile on Johnny’s face held a hint of smugness.


“What kind of dealing?” Murdoch prompted.


 “They’ll let us name the schedule and they’ll take delivery at Fort Yuma.”  Johnny spoke in an offhand manner, pretending to be engrossed in the food on his tray. In reality, his every sense drank in his father’s attentiveness. “They’ve got the space and protection to handle a big remuda there. They need fresh horses comin’ in regular so we can count on steady business from them as long as the Apaches keep fightin’. And we don’t have to contract with each separate Camp or Fort—one contract and one delivery point at Fort Yuma.”


Scott quirked a knowing eyebrow at Murdoch and took a leisurely swallow of his brandy. “Fort Yuma? That’s more than four hundred miles. How are we going to drive a big herd all that way?”


The blue eyes sparkled with eagerness. “Right down the valley and through the Tehachapi Mountains. We’ll use either Tejon Pass or Tehachapi Pass. Then straight down the Mojave desert to Agua Caliente, skirt the Chocolate Mountains and on into Fort Yuma.”


“Wait a minute!” Scott straightened in his chair. “The desert? I’ve had one run-in with that desert already and have no desire to go back.”


Johnny rolled his head back and looked up at his brother, his best smart aleck grin on his face. “The trick is knowin’ where the water holes are.”


Scott ignored that look and shot a covert wink at Murdoch. “I don’t know. I was thinking we’d be trailing much smaller herds up to Fort Mason in San Francisco.” He pursed his lips, making a “tsk tsk” sound, and shook his head. “But the desert? I think we’d lose half the herd trying. So much for any profits.”


Johnny’s grin faded as he stared at his usually supportive brother in confusion. He struggled to a more upright position and folded his arms across his chest. “I know that desert, Scott. I know where to find the water.”


He turned to his father for support. “Didn’t I find water for us when we were lookin’ for him?” One hand pointed at Scott’s head. “I tracked him and led us to water all along the way. Tell him, Murdoch.”


“He did, Scott,” Murdoch confirmed, delighted that his younger son had openly asked for his assistance.


Johnny jerked his head back to face Scott and started to speak, but Scott sat on the edge of the bed and grasped his shoulder.


“Hey, I believe you. It was a joke.” Scott cuffed his shoulder playfully. “It wasn’t a very good one.”


Johnny took a deep breath and looked into his brother’s face. “I do know that desert and I’m friendly with the Cahuillas. Those Indians know the desert like the back of their hands. We’ll arrange for them to guide us. We oughta be tradin’ with ‘em anyhow. I figure it’ll take five vaqueros no more’n two weeks—less if it’s wet so there’s more water in the desert and better forage along the way.”


Scott squeezed Johnny’s shoulder and moved back to the armchair before turning his head toward his father. “I think it will work, Murdoch.”


“So do I, Scott,” his proud father agreed. He looked at Johnny. “Did you happen to discuss prices with the Major?”


“Yeah, that subject came up,” Johnny grinned. “Still got talkin’ to do, but bank draft on delivery’ll be anywhere from $4,500 to $5,500.”


Scott whistled and Murdoch’s eyes widened in amazement. “The army will pay that much for horses?”


“Yep, for three reasons.” Johnny ticked them off on his fingers.  “One, quantity. They need horses and lots of ‘em. Most outfits ain’t willin’ or able to commit to the numbers we’re talkin’. Two, quality. We ain’t talkin’ crowbaits. They’ll get young, sound horses that can stand up to trackin’ and fightin’ Apaches. And three, reliability. They can count on us to deliver the quantity and quality they’re lookin’ for when we agree to do it.”


He shrugged, holding out his hands, palms up. “Like I told the Major, he’s got a choice. He can pay less money and take pot luck or he can make it worth our while and know when, what kind, and how many.” The matter-of-fact expression transformed into a wolfish grin. “He ain’t a stupid man.”


Scott nodded slowly, face wreathed in a smile. “Quantity, quality, and reliability. That’s good.”


Even Grandfather would be proud of that argument. It’s one he’d make himself.


Murdoch leaned over and slapped Johnny’s knee. The smile on his face matched the one on Scott’s. “It is good. Those prices make an army contract an attractive business proposition. The flexible schedule and single point of delivery really sweeten the pot. You’ve done Lancer proud, son.”


Johnny ducked his head, flustered at the unexpected praise from his father. The smile on his face indicated his pleasure at the verbal show of support from both men.


Scott decided to rescue Johnny from his embarrassment by giving him another topic of conversation. He leaned back and put his arms behind his head. “Well, Johnny, how do you plan on catching all these wild horses?”


“Water, Scott.” Johnny shot him a look laced with gratitude. “If you wanna catch wild horses, you gotta know where they drink. Once you know that, you got options.”


“What options?”


“Depends if you want the whole herd or just specific animals.” Johnny’s complete attention centered on his brother and his hands flew as he laid out the facts. “See, a wild horse can go two days without water if it’s hot, three when it’s cooler. A herd grazes across a range of forty to eighty miles, mas o menos. That usually means two to four water holes. You pick the best spot for what you wanna do and put spooks up at the other holes they’re usin’.”




“Yeah—kinda like scarecrows. Just tyin’ a bright colored shirt to a tree close by or hangin’ it from a pole in the water usually works—keeps ‘em from drinkin’ at that spot.” He moved the items on his plate around to simulate three different water holes, demonstrating his words with his supper.


“They end up comin’ to the spot you’ve picked while they’re tired and thirsty. Then you got ‘em. If you just want several out of the herd, you let ‘em drink their fill.” He pantomimed throwing a rope and only Scott and Murdoch’s quick snatch at the tray kept it from crashing to the floor. Johnny carried on, oblivious to the effects of his zeal. “Once they get good and water-logged, you can rope the ones you want easy ‘cause they can’t run too good.


“You carry five or six ropes ready and use a neck catch, then flip out the slack and rein off at a sharp angle,” he used his fingers to demonstrate, “so the rope cuts the hind legs out from under him. While he’s on the ground, you tie him so the head is bent and roped to the tail. It don’t hurt him none, but he can’t run off. Then you mount up and go after the next one. Two men can pick off the best from a herd that way.


“Now if you’re aimin’ to catch the whole herd, you build a trap with wings to funnel the herd into a holding corral,” his hands flew as he rearranged the objects on the tray to illustrate his point. “You run ‘em usin’ relays until they’re tired and then use the water to help aim the herd through the trap’s wings and into the corral.”


Johnny had to pause for a breath and Murdoch took advantage to interject a comment.


“What about creasing the stallion?” He kept his eyes on Johnny’s face, satisfied when it darkened with distaste. “You and your brother are skilled enough with a rifle to carry it off.”   


“Nope,” Johnny snapped. “I won’t work that way.”


Scott looked back and forth between them. “What is creasing?”


“There’s a certain spot on a horse’s neck where if you graze him with a bullet, it’ll knock him down and leave him unable to move for a few minutes. But you miss half an inch either way and you’ve killed him. I won’t do it.” Johnny glared at Murdoch. “I can’t believe you ever did it or watched it happen.”


“No son, I never have. I’m glad to know that you don’t consider it an option.” He leaned forward, his hand touching Johnny’s shoulder. “Be prepared for some of the vaqueros to ask why you don’t make the job easier by doing it—especially with your skill with a gun.”


“I can handle that.” Johnny’s eyes never wavered from his father’s face.


“I know you can, son.” He squeezed Johnny’s shoulder, determined to demonstrate his confidence in the boy.


Johnny read the conviction and trust in Murdoch’s eyes, totally unprepared for the quivering warmth it seared through his heart. This open show of faith from his father was so new—unaccustomed and unexpected—but he swore he’d earn that support and accompanying look of pride more often.


Murdoch leaned back in his chair. “Why don’t you fill in Scott about the Eagle Canyon land.”


Johnny turned eagerly to Scott. “Murdoch thinks we oughta start out with more land than you and I planned on, includin’ Eagle Canyon. The valley floor in that canyon will support at least three herds and the entrance is protected. It’s a natural pasture and we can fence it off just to be sure.


“We’ll pick the best three or four stallions, cut out their finest mares, and then turn ‘em loose in that valley. We can round up the three-year olds every year. It’s a built in breedin’ operation. We keep the best and use the rest in our Army consignment.”


Scott nodded and injected the appropriate exclamations to show his interest. Inside, he reveled in the passionate fervor of Johnny’s voice. He never tired of this boyishly innocent side of his brother and was thrilled that their father had the opportunity to witness it firsthand.


“The stallion that sired Smoky is one of the studs we’ll run up there. We’ll assess the herds runnin’ on our range now, cut out the best mares, and pick another couple of stallions.” Johnny’s voice reverberated with excitement and his hands and fingers flew as quickly as his tongue.


“We gotta manage the wild horse herds on our land just as strict as we do the cattle. Once you start runnin’ roundups, you gotta watch the culls. If you don’t, ya get culls breedin’ with culls and the quality of the horses suffers. Now I ain’t willin’ to shoot the culls, so we’ll isolate ‘em on Black Mesa and when we’re drivin’ the remuda to Fort Yuma, we’ll trail ‘em along and turn ‘em loose in the Antelope Valley on the other side of the Tehachapis where they won’t come back on our range. Then I was thinkin’—”


“Whoa!” Scott dropped his feet to the floor and sat up. “Slow down for a minute, catch your breath, and eat your supper.” He handed Johnny the fork and pointed at the food. “I don’t want to be in trouble with Teresa, so you finish that.”


Murdoch snorted and Johnny stared at Scott in surprise, mouth suspended in mid-sentence. Scott took advantage of the opportunity to shovel a spoonful of applesauce into his brother’s conveniently open mouth. Johnny swallowed to keep from choking and snatched the spoon from Scott’s fingers.


“I don’t believe you did that.” He held the fork in one hand and the spoon in the other.


“Neither do I,” Scott laughed, “but it was such an irresistible target.”


Johnny rolled his eyes and attacked the broth-soaked bread with gusto, dropping the spoon to gulp the small glass of milk. “Oh boy, it sure feels good to eat somethin’ ‘sides beef tea.”


He forked in a huge bite of bread and followed it with a heaping spoonful of applesauce. When he scooped up another gargantuan forkful of bread, Murdoch leaned forward and grasped his arm, forcing the fork back to the plate.


“Easy, son. We’ll all be in trouble with Teresa and Sam if you make yourself sick.” He shared an amused look with Scott.


Johnny noticed their exchange of glances and threw up his hands, glaring at them. “Eat. Don’t eat. Will you two make up your minds? And how come I just got this little bitty glass of milk?”


He held up the small milk-stained glass. “I want more. Sam said I could start eatin’ real food again.” He picked up the fork and resumed his assault on the bread, but with noticeably smaller portions.


“No more milk tonight, I’m afraid.” Murdoch sighed as Johnny’s head snapped up at that. The boy’s mouth was full so his eyes asked the question.


“Son, you haven’t had anything besides water and beef tea or broth in your belly for more than a week. The last thing we want is to rile your insides so that they work either too much or not enough—and that’s exactly what will happen if you eat too quickly or have too much of certain types of food.”


Johnny looked crestfallen. “Yeah, reckon you’re right.” He took a small bite of the bread, taking the time to chew it. Two pairs of eyes followed his every move and Johnny quickly grew uncomfortable with the scrutiny. He thought of a way to end it.


“Hey, Murdoch, tell Scott about them broodmares.”


Murdoch settled back in his chair. “Well, Lancer did have a breeding program at one time. We had two stallions—one Pardee shot and the other he stole. With the stallions gone, I had nothing to breed the mares to.” He paused as a wave of sadness washed over him.


“Paul loved the horses and he handled the breeding end of the business. Without him or the stallions…well, the mares just reminded me of things I wanted to forget. Paul handpicked those mares and I couldn’t bear to sell them. So I took them up to Eagle Canyon.” He took a sip of his scotch.


“They’re still there: fifteen nice mares—proven producers between five and eleven years old. I imagine they’ll cross nicely with that grulla.”


“One of them mares is Barranca’s momma, Scott. I sure want a half brother or sister to Barranca by Smoky.” Johnny’s eyes flashed with eagerness.


“Well, that certainly gets the breeding end of the business off to a flying start. Are those mares in foal?” Scott reached over to push the applesauce to the center of Johnny’s tray, wincing when his brother slapped his hand.


“They were in foal when we moved them to the canyon and several were still nursing foals at the time. They should be barren now.” Murdoch ran his hand through his hair. “Like Johnny said, that valley in Eagle Canyon is well-protected, but it’s possible that a wild stallion has found his way in to them.  If we’re lucky, we could have nineteen foals by Smoky on the ground next year—counting those four thoroughbreds.”


“We’ll be able to judge his prepotency as a sire.” Scott tossed off the remainder of his brandy, glancing sideways at Johnny’s supper tray, gratified to see that his brother had been able to finish his meal. He moved the tray to the relative safety of the bedside table.


Johnny nodded his thanks and stretched, wincing and rubbing his stomach before he started talking again. “We’re gonna need a stallion to cross on Smoky’s daughters. Me and Scott talked about findin’ a thoroughbred stud someday, but we never figured on needin’ one so soon. The right horse will cost muy dinero.”  Johnny’s hand punctuated every point he made as he warmed to his subject. “So here’s what I’m thinkin’. How ‘bout we head down to Texas and buy us a son or grandson of Steel Dust to fill in ‘til we can afford the right eastern-bred thoroughbred?


“Steel Dust was a big horse and a real looker—born in Kentucky. Outran everything on the border. I know you’ve heard of him, Murdoch. His babies are runners, too. Just the type we need to add size and speed to our Spanish bloodlines.” The rapid flow of his words slowed a bit as his animation and excitement caught up with him and his energy waned.


“Me and Wes Hardin cleaned up from El Paso to Santa Fe one summer with a Steel Dust colt out of a Copper Bottom mare. Now Murdoch, I know you want a Morgan stallion, but I think...”


Johnny continued talking, but he was rapidly running out of steam. As his body slumped into the mound of pillows, his eyelids grew heavier and he fought to keep them open against the sudden wave of exhaustion. Scott exchanged a knowing look with Murdoch and both men stood and began removing pillows from behind Johnny’s back. Scott laid a hand on Johnny’s forehead, relieved at the coolness he found there.


“Hey, what are ya doin’? Sam said I was supposed to sit up more,” Johnny protested as he twisted his head away from Scott’s hand.


“Yes, he did, and you’ve been sitting up for more than two hours. I don’t want you to overdo it. You’ve had a busy afternoon, son. Why don’t you close your eyes and rest while Scott and I go have our supper.” Murdoch attempted to ease Johnny into a reclining position.


“But I ain’t tired!” Johnny insisted, resisting his father’s actions.


Murdoch straightened leisurely to his full, imposing height and cracked his hands onto his hips. The look on his face reminded Johnny of one of Dr. Jenkins’ no nonsense glares. He glanced sideways at Scott, hoping for support from that quarter, and did a double-take at the expression on his brother’s face.


Damn! Never knew he could look so much like the Old Man. Reckon I better do like I’m told.


“Okay, okay. I’ll be a good boy and take a nap.” Johnny slid down to lie on his back.


If he was honest with himself, he really was worn out and the bed was so soft, inviting him to surrender to sleep. He sighed, enjoying the sensation of his father’s hand stroking his hair. He wavered on the brink of slumber, but was jerked rudely back to wakefulness by his brother’s voice.


“Not yet, Johnny. You have to swallow this medicine before you go to sleep.” Scott slipped the spoonful of dark liquid between Johnny’s teeth, smiling at his brother’s look of revulsion. “I know it tastes awful, but Sam always says that the worse it tastes, the better it is for you.”


Johnny coughed, his face screwed into a distasteful frown. “Echhhk. I don’t see Sam swallowin’ any.”


To his horror, Scott held out the spoon brimming with another evil looking liquid. When he opened his mouth to refuse, Scott deftly tipped the medication down his throat.


Johnny fixed his brother with his best Madrid glare. “That’s the second time you’ve done that, brother, and there’d best not be a third.”


Scott thought it prudent to ignore him and turned away to prepare the next dose. Murdoch stepped between them, handing Johnny a glass of water.


“Thanks.” He sipped it gratefully, trying to rinse away the bitter taste of the medicine.


“Just a little more, Johnny. This one won’t taste so bad.” Scott held out a small glass of something diluted with water.


Johnny glared at the glass as though it were a rattlesnake. “You’re enjoyin’ this way too much, Boston. If you think it tastes so good, why don’t you drink it?”


“Maybe that tube was good for something after all,” Murdoch commented. “Sam can always insert another one if you prefer to take your medicine that way.”


The steely glare moved from the glass to Murdoch’s face and Johnny snatched the potion from Scott’s hand, took a deep breath, and gulped it down. Scott and Murdoch forced themselves not to react to the accompanying theatrical expressions of distaste.


Murdoch solemnly offered Johnny another sip of water, then settled him back on the pillows and pulled the quilt up higher. “We’ll talk more later this evening, son.”


Johnny opened one eye and smiled at him. “S’good. I’m kinda tired now. Gonna sleep a little…” His voice trailed off as he yielded to the demands of sleep.


His father and brother stood staring down at him for several moments before they headed toward the door and their supper.


“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Johnny so excited or happy.” Scott paused at the top of the stairs and faced his father. “Thank you, sir.”


“I should be thanking you, Scott. The look on that boy’s face when I told him…” Murdoch bit his lip and turned his head away, fighting the rush of emotion that pricked hotly behind his eyelids.


Scott kept silent, watching his father intently.


“Son, you helped me find him. Johnny was lost to me and you showed me how to reach him. I…well, just thanks.”


De nada, as Johnny would say.”


Murdoch bit his lip, struggling to control his emotions. Scott stood quietly, not intruding on his father’s thoughts. The man won his battle and a swift smile softened the lines on his face.


“Your brother’s proposal is…well, I’m proud of him. He’s really thought it through.” He cocked his head and studied his son. “Are some of the fingerprints on those ideas yours?”


“Frankly, no. I just coached him on the elements of a complete business plan. Oh, and I did mention that Drum Barracks is the Army’s headquarters. Johnny did the rest on his own—and I thought he did a hell of a job!” Scott leaned his shoulders against the wall.


“He certainly did.”


“In fact, I was thinking that my grandfather would appreciate Johnny’s recommendations, especially the quantity, quality, and reliability part.” He smirked. “Don’t tell Johnny I said that—Grandfather isn’t his favorite person.”


Murdoch took a deep breath, refusing to allow the mention of his old nemesis, Harlan, to dampen his enthusiasm. “Yes, a master accountant like Harlan would see the value.” He smoothed back his hair. “I like Johnny’s idea about purchasing a son of Steel Dust. I saw that horse run when I was in Abilene and he was really something.”


“I hope you don’t share that with Johnny until tomorrow. We’ll never get him to sleep tonight.” Scott slung his arm over Murdoch’s shoulders and started down the stairs. “You know, I never realized that Johnny and Wes raced horses together.”


Murdoch halted and faced him. “Wrong Wes, son.”


“You mean he wasn’t talking about the Wes he rode out of here with? Then who?”


“John Wesley Hardin.” Murdoch nodded as Scott’s eyes widened in recognition of the infamous gunman’s name. “I didn’t realize they had ridden together. It’s not well known or I’d have heard about it.” He rubbed his palms together. “I suppose it makes sense. They’re about the same age and they say Hardin left home when he was fifteen. He’s a Texas boy.”


“Johnny Madrid and John Wesley Hardin.” Scott blew his breath out in a huge sigh and shook his head. “What a pair. Two kids more dangerous than the entire Rebel army. The horse wasn’t the only thing fast in that crew. I like the way Jelly says it—‘the fastest thing west of anyplace east.’” He laughed and started walking again. “My brother never ceases to surprise me.”


A huge grin creased Murdoch’s face. “That boy of mine is full of surprises, isn’t he?” His hand came up and mussed the back of Scott’s hair. “I suppose that tomorrow he’ll want to ride up to Eagle Canyon and round up those mares.”


“Only if we’re lucky.” Scott grinned wickedly. “When you tell him you like his idea of buying a Steel Dust colt, he’ll want to head to Texas.”



**Steel Dust and Copper Bottom were real horses. In the flourishing Southwestern match racing scene of the time, a horse sired by Steel Dust out of a Copper Bottom mare was considered the epitome of running bloodlines





Later that evening…


Murdoch lurked in the hall shadows outside Johnny’s partially open door, eavesdropping on the conversation between his sons. Part of him was ashamed at his behavior, but he couldn’t help himself—he burned to hear the words Johnny would share with his brother, the ones he might not voice to his father. So he leaned against the wall and listened as his boys talked.



“Reckon I got you to thank that Murdoch is finally willin’ to give me a crack at the horse business.” Johnny leaned forward to allow Scott to prop more pillows behind his back.


“No, Johnny. He’s taking this chance on you because you presented a compelling proposal. You identified the dangers of relying solely on raising cattle, supported your contentions with historical facts, and described a logical and profitable plan for diversification.” Scott handed Johnny a small glass of apple juice, picking up his own snifter of brandy before settling himself in the armchair.


“That was quite a show you put on, little brother. I’m impressed.” He raised his glass in a toast.


“Yeah?” Johnny blushed and ducked his head for a moment.


//My brother’s proud of me!//


He looked back up into his brother’s face, touching his juice glass to the brandy snifter. “But I know you had somethin’ to do with it, Scott.”


“Murdoch decided to support your ideas on his own. He was going to surprise you by fencing off the pastures and building the barns and corrals.” Scott took a nonchalant swallow. “I just suggested that you might want to be part of the planning.”


Johnny froze and stared at his brother intently. He bit his lip and closed his eyes, the expression on his face that of a man who has just received an unexpected blow to the solar plexus.


Scott was beside him on the bed instantly. “You okay, Johnny?”


Johnny took a deep breath. “Yeah. I…thanks. It…,” he swallowed and his fingers began pleating the quilt. He felt Scott’s hand on his shoulder, patient and supportive.


//I’m so lucky to have this man for a brother.//


His voice trembled slightly when he spoke. “It’s just that all my life I wanted to build somethin’ that was mine. Somethin’ more than just a reputation as a fast gun. You and Murdoch…you’re givin’ me that chance.”


“Murdoch believes you’ve earned it, Johnny. As for me, there isn’t anyone I’d rather work with to build a future than you.” He squeezed Johnny’s shoulder. “At least until the right girl comes along.”


The tension flowed out of Johnny and he grinned, cuffing his brother on the chin. “Guess I finally proved myself to the Old Man, huh?”


Scott eased off the bed and into the armchair. “Yes, you did. I wish that hadn’t been necessary and I still don’t understand why it was.” He studied his hands. “I didn’t have to prove myself to Murdoch. He gave me the benefit of the doubt from the start. I’m sorry, Johnny.”


Johnny leaned over and grabbed his arm. “You got nuthin’ to be sorry for. What the Old Man did or didn’t do ain’t your fault. ‘Sides, I been doin’ a lotta thinkin’ lately.”


“We’re in trouble now.” Scott shared a rich chuckle with his brother. “And just what have you concluded?”


“You did prove yourself—ya just didn’t know that’s what you were doin’.”


“What do you mean?”


“By servin’ in the army you showed you could follow orders and finish a job. Then when you first got here, ya went outta your way to learn what to do and why. That took guts, Boston.” Johnny sat back against the pillows and took a sip of juice. “But me now—well, I guess I didn’t give Murdoch any reason to believe he could trust me.”


Scott thought about that perspective. Trust Johnny to analyze an issue until he could see straight through to the heart of the matter. Both of them had come to Lancer already tested under fire, yet the very fact of his military service proved he could accept and carry out orders. And Murdoch was a stickler for barking orders and expecting them to be acted upon without question.


My time in the cavalry taught me to follow orders without question. Working with Grandfather, learning the business world, taught me to recognize the circumstances under which I can protest commands. The most important thing my experience showed me is how to question a directive diplomatically.


His brother had no qualms about openly challenging authority at the slightest provocation while their father insisted on controlling with an iron hand—much like a benevolent dictator. With such divergent approaches and expectations, it was no surprise that Johnny and Murdoch seemed to leap from one confrontation to another. Looking at the facts in that light, Scott could understand why Murdoch might have distrusted his defiant younger son.


“I can see your point, but I wish he’d granted you the same benefit of the doubt he awarded me.”


“Me, too. But I understand now why he didn’t. See, it really wasn’t a matter of trust—not like you’re thinkin’ anyway.” Johnny suddenly became fascinated with a button on his nightshirt. “You know he couldn’t decide if I was a kid or a killer. Either choice left him with the same kinds of questions.” He looked up into Scott’s face. “He just needed to know that I was grown up enough to be responsible, that’s all.”


Scott stared at Johnny; once again his brother was surprising him. “Go on.”


“Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent my whole life provin’ I’m not too young to do somethin’.” Johnny chuckled. “Oh boy, the first few years when I tried to take a job…I always had to prove I was old enough, that I didn’t need a babysitter. I heard more jokes about how my gun was bigger’n me…”


Scott laughed with him while the old familiar pain twisted his heart at the thought of his fourteen-year-old brother attempting to convince the world that he was a deadly killer.


//Johnny had so little time to just be a child. And when he tried to be a man, he was treated like a little boy.//


“See, Pablo showed me that bein’ grown up ain’t a matter of age. He said the difference between a man and a boy is that a man accepts responsibility. I had a hard time with that lesson, Scott.” One hand pleated the quilt while the other fiddled with the button.


“See, I wanted to decide what things to be responsible for.” Johnny sneaked a sideways glance at his brother’s face. “Once I found out I was good with the horses, I got kinda…well, arrogant.”


Scott raised his eyebrows, but held his tongue.


“There were chores around the barn and ranch that I figured were beneath me. I wanted to gentle and train horses. I was willin’ to be responsible for that, but cleanin’ the barn…well, that shoulda been someone else’s worry. I didn’t wanna be bothered with it.” A tender, wistful smile transformed his face.


“Pablo kept tellin’ me that I was tryin’ to go from crawlin’ to runnin’ with nuthin’ in between. He told me my only problem was that I was young, but time would cure that. Used to rile me to blue blazes when he said that.” Johnny sipped his juice, lost in another time, another place. “Later, I figured out that was his way of tellin’ me he trusted me.


“I got a hard head, so it took some time, but he finally made me see that the true measure of a man is his willingness to take on the hard, thankless jobs—the ones he don’t wanna do—and do ‘em good and learn from the doin’.” He rubbed his eyes.


“Pablo needed to know he could trust me to obey his orders, even when I didn’t like ‘em. I finally learned that a man takes responsibility for every job he’s given—whether he wants the job or not.”


Johnny met Scott’s eyes and grinned. “Murdoch…well, he just needed to know I understand that. I reckon there was times I gave him reason to doubt that I do. He ain’t always been sure he can trust me to obey his orders.”


//Johnny and Murdoch really are beginning to understand one another. Johnny is thinking about why Murdoch was so hard on him and Murdoch is realizing why Johnny resisted his authority. And they’re each willing to forgive the other.//


Scott took a quick swallow of brandy. “Pablo was quite a man. I wish I’d known him.”


“Yeah.” Johnny swallowed hard. “He was a lot like you’ll be in forty years or so.”


“Think you’ll be ready to listen to my advice by then?”


“C’mon, I listen to you most of the time.” Johnny’s expression turned serious and he began pleating the quilt again. “Since I got here, I been gripin’ about how Murdoch is always givin’ me advice. Funny thing is that I’d really miss it if he stopped.”


Scott laughed. “Well that’s a good thing, brother, because I don’t think there is any danger of him refraining from dispensing liberal amounts of advice to you.”


“Yeah,” Johnny snickered, then sobered again. “You know, it pains me to say it, but I still got a lot to learn.” He waited for Scott to laugh at his admission, but his brother didn’t bat an eye as he waited silently for Johnny to finish his thought.


“I needed Pablo’s guidance then, and,” he broke off and stared at his hands, “well…I reckon I need Murdoch’s now.” He looked into Scott’s face. “And yours and Jelly’s, too.”


Scott nodded slightly, letting his expression acknowledge Johnny’s words in that silent rapport they shared. He held the moment for several heartbeats and then diffused the emotion. “How about giving me some guidance?”


“Like what?”


“Our herd stallion is full of himself. He misses you and needs to be ridden.”


“Yeah. I was gonna talk to you about that. You gotta ride Smoky every day, Scott.”


“Yes, I think so, too. So tell me what you want me to do with him.” Scott picked up Johnny’s spurs and held them up. “I’d rather not use these.”


Johnny held out his hand and Scott handed him one of the spurs. “I’m gonna get you into a pair of these one day, Boston.” He spun the rowel.


“Help me out here, Johnny. You’ve got that colt going so well and I don’t want to set him back. I’m not familiar with the training method you’re using.”


“You ain’t gonna have trouble. Biggest thing you gotta watch is stayin’ offa the reins.” Johnny laid the spur on the bed and pantomimed the way Scott normally held his reins. “You like to take a feel of your horse’s mouth through your reins and you use the bit and reins to set his head and turn left and right.”


Scott nodded his agreement. “Go on.”


“Now that ain’t wrong, it just ain’t the best way to ride a horse while you’re workin’ cattle. Remember when I rode Charlie for you, sharpened him up and showed ya how to make him work cows?”


“Are you speaking of Charlemagne?”


Johnny grinned. “Yeah, that’s right, your Charlie horse.” He paused, but Scott refused the bait. “Anyhow, when you’re herdin’ cattle on him now, you ride kinda different—use less reins and sit deeper in your saddle. You’re startin’ to get more comfortable ridin’ that way, ain’t you?”


Scott thought about that for a moment. His grandfather had seen to it that he learned to ride like an English aristocrat. He’d been taught to balance his mount between his hands and legs, pushing the horse forward into the bit and maintaining a feel of his mount’s mouth through the reins. His time in the cavalry did little to change his style, though much to improve his horsemanship. Here in California, the drovers and vaqueros rode with loose reins, using their legs and weight to communicate with the horse. He’d found that interesting, but saw no reason to adjust his riding habits until he purchased his handsome chestnut gelding.


Charlemagne proved an exceptional animal in every way—except his resistance to working cattle for Scott. Johnny had shielded his brother from Murdoch’s scorn, riding the gelding himself and then drilling horse and rider together. He’d patiently coached Scott on how to give his mount the slack rein the horse demanded and still remain in control. Now, Scott and the flashy chestnut could hold their own with the Lancer vaqueros.


He nodded. “Yes, I am comfortable riding that way.”


“Well, that’s how you’re gonna ride Smoky, except you’ll use both hands on the rein.” He demonstrated the position with his hands. “See, the jaquíma doesn’t have a bit—its weight and the way it fits help him carry his head in the right place. When your hands are quiet on a loose rein and he’s carryin’ his head where we want it, he don’t feel any pressure on his cheeks or nose. That’s the biggest change from the way you usually ride. With Smoky, you use the rein to tip his nose in the direction you want him to move. You want him to go right, you use your right hand, moving it out away from his neck. That creates pressure on his left cheek.” His hands held an invisible rein and moved as though making that adjustment. “You’re teachin’ him that the pressure on his cheek means to follow your hand on the opposite side.”


Scott’s hands mirrored Johnny’s. “Yes, I see. So explain this training approach to me the way Pablo explained it to you.”


The crooked smile crawled up the side of Johnny’s mouth. “It’s like teachin’ a kid in school. You gotta show him the basics, you know, the ABCs. Smoky needs to learn go, whoa, left, right, and back. I’ve shown him the basics, but he still needs schoolin’.”


“So tell me how to school him.” Scott leaned forward slightly.


“Well…think of it like this. When you’re ridin’ a horse, you wanna control his feet, right?” He waited for Scott’s nod. “Sittin’ on his back, your weight and legs are the best tools you got to do that. The jaquíma directs his nose and your legs and weight move his feet. Long as he’s relaxed, he’ll move his feet in the direction his nose is pointed.”


“I’m with you.” Scott studied Johnny’s hands, copying the subtle movements of his wrists and fingers.


“The bosal on the jaquíma cues him when you pick up a light feel in the rein.” The lean fingers flexed, unconsciously illustrating the appropriate action. “It’s all about teachin’ Smoky to give to pressure. The slightest movement of your fingers on the rein applies pressure on his cheek or nose.”


He snapped his fingers. “Hey, Pablo used to fit a jaquíma on my hands and let me feel what the different hand movements are like to the horse. We’ll do that and it’ll help you see what I’m talkin’ about. Go get the jaquíma.”


“If we wait until tomorrow, the lesson will be fresh in my mind. It’ll help me prepare.” Scott kept his voice nonchalant.


“Oookaaay.” Johnny sighed.


“You were telling me about pressure,” Scott prompted.


“You just want him to try. You ask him to give to pressure and reward the smallest try by releasin’ it.” He reached over and adjusted the position of Scott’s left hand on the invisible rein. “That’s critical—you gotta watch for the second he shows you any response to the pressure. It might be a flicked ear, a softer look in his eye, a shift in his weight from one foot to the other—whatever, you release right away. Over time, you need less and less pressure for faster and more accurate results.”


“I understand.”


“Ask him nice and let him figure it out. He’s a smart horse. You just make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy and he’ll find the answer.” Johnny picked up the spur and spun the rowel, watching the lamplight reflecting off the polished silver.


“What do you want me to do with him?” Scott picked up the other spur and traced the fine metalwork with his finger.


“Just ride him in big circles in the corral. Walk, trot, and lope with lotsa stoppin’ and standin’ quiet.” He laid his spur on the bedside table. “We wanna get Smoky ready to work cattle, so every time you pull up from a lope, ask him to back up right away.”


“I don’t want to work a cow with him. He can wait until you’re back in the saddle for that.”


Johnny grinned. “We ain’t gonna work him on cows for awhile. Truth is I never shoulda put him on that cow. I just got antsy and had to know.” His eyes gleamed. “Boy, that colt is a cow hunter. I mean he stalked that cow like a hungry jaguar.” He looked down at his hands. “But it was too soon. I shouldn’t have let him do it.”


“I thought he was wonderful. He seemed to have a real knack for controlling the cow.”


“Yeah, but he’s young and he’s gotta grow up and learn. I let him cow down before he’s learned his ABCs. That ain’t right.”


“What do you want to teach him before you let him work with a cow?” Scott found the ideas behind this training method fascinating.


“I want him to learn to shift his weight back over his hocks as soon as he stops. Pablo called it ‘backwards thinkin’.” Johnny’s hand motions illustrated his point. “A horse naturally thinks ‘go forward’. When he’s workin’ cows, he has to think ‘back’. That’s the only way he can spin and turn fast enough to control the cow—by keepin’ his weight over his haunches and leavin’ his shoulders free to move. He’s gotta run, stop, and think ‘back’. Smoky’s got more ability than most horses so we’re gonna move a little faster with him.”


He relaxed into the pillows. “Before we let Smoky work a cow again, we gotta get his backwards thinkin’ workin’—so he gets his weight back over his hocks before he tries to make any change in direction with the cow. When he’s learned that, I’ll let him cow down with a heifer again and we’ll really see some whittlin’.”


“So you want me to spend time loping and backing him—and teaching him to give to pressure.”


Johnny grinned and caught him in a headlock. “You know, I think I can make a professional outta you, brother.”


“I think you can.” Scott wriggled his head free, careful not to put any strain on Johnny’s stomach muscles.


Johnny’s head jerked up and he wore his most persuasive expression. “Hey, I got a great idea. I could sit on the fence while you’re ridin’ ol’ Smoky. Just in case ya need some pointers.”


Scott steeled himself to ignore that look and laughed out loud. “Don’t even think about it.”


“What?” Johnny’s face was all innocence. “I’d be sittin’. Sam said I should sit up.”


“Give it up, little brother.” He folded his arms. “Sam said you could sit up in bed—note the qualifier ‘in bed’—for a few hours a day. In no language does that translate into you sitting on the corral fence tomorrow.”


“Aw, what’s the difference? Sittin’ is sittin’. It ain’t gonna hurt me none,” Johnny wheedled.


“Just turn it off, Johnny.” Scott’s hands went to his hips. “You are not going to talk me into such a stunt. Even if you convinced me, you’d still have to get past Jelly, Murdoch, and Teresa.”


“Get past…no, no. This is just between you and me—we don’t need to bother Murdoch and Teresa.”


Murdoch decided he’d heard enough in secret. He cleared his throat and rapped on the door as he strode by it, holding a perfect poker face as his sons turned toward him, both looking a bit guilty. “Hello, boys. What do you not need to bother me with?”


“Nuthin’, nuthin’—” Johnny started.


“Johnny here would like to sit on the corral fence while I ride Smoky tomorrow.” Scott could barely contain his glee at the chagrined promise of retribution on his brother’s face.


Murdoch folded his arms and looked down at Johnny. “Did you listen to Sam this morning, son?”




“What did he say?”


“He said he wanted me to sit up several hours a day.”


“Actually, he said he wanted you to sit up in bed several hours a day,” Scott corrected.


Murdoch motioned for him to be quiet without moving his gaze from Johnny. “I heard the same thing your brother did.”


Johnny sighed. “Sittin’ is sittin’. Why does it make a difference where?”


“You know the answer to that, son.” Murdoch sat on the edge of the bed. “It takes much more strength to sit on the fence or even in the armchair than it does to sit up in bed. And right now strength is something you don’t have.” He laid his hand on Johnny’s forehead.


Johnny twisted his head away. “Quit fussin’, Old Man.”


Murdoch ignored this outburst. “Feels like you might have a bit of a fever. See what you think, Scott.”


Johnny rolled his eyes as Scott moved to the side of the bed. “Look, I’m fine. I don’t have a fever.” He swatted Scott’s hand away.


Scott refused to be thwarted, pressing his hand firmly to Johnny’s forehead. He held it there a moment and looked over at Murdoch. “Maybe a bit warm. If he does have a fever, it’s slight.”


“Will you cut it out! I’m fine.” Johnny glared at his brother and father. “You two gotta stop this hoverin’. You’re makin’ me crazy.”


Murdoch stood up. “I’ll make a deal with you, Johnny. We won’t make you crazy by hovering if you won’t make us crazy by trying to break Sam’s rules. Deal?”


Johnny saw the trap, but could find no way out of it. He shot his father a rueful frown. “Yeah.”


Scott watched their interaction with a smile, exulting in the subtle gentling of Murdoch’s voice when he spoke to Johnny—a slight change in timbre, but the harshness that had previously been present when Murdoch addressed Johnny had vanished. The barriers between his brother and father were falling fast and with them swept aside, Murdoch seemed to know instinctively how to deal with his impetuous younger son. Scott remembered Murdoch’s proficient handling of Tommy—and the way he and his brother had both reacted so keenly to seeing their father interacting with the child. Johnny had known few father figures in his life and the young man subconsciously responded to paternal words and actions. His independent, older-than-his-years brother seemed to have a deeply buried need for Murdoch to step up to the role of father. Just as Murdoch obviously relished the opportunity to play that role.


“Good.” Murdoch plopped into the armchair by the bed. “Now please be honest with me. Are you feeling all right?”


“Aw c’mon, Murdoch. I thought we had a deal.” Johnny threw up his hands.


Murdoch didn’t blink an eye. “We do. This is not hovering. I’m merely following the doctor’s orders and assessing your reaction to the increased food intake.” 


Scott snorted his appreciation of this explanation as well as Johnny’s eye-rolling look of disbelief tinged with rebellion.


Ignoring his older son, Murdoch bent a stern gaze on the younger one. “I asked you a question, young man. Is your stomach okay? Any problems from that supper?”


“No sir, nuthin’. I swear I’m all right. I feel just fine,” Johnny hastened to assure him. A huge yawn marred the assertion.


Scott turned his head away to hide his smile. “Well, an afternoon and evening of thinking about driving horses through the desert has exhausted me. I’m off to bed. Good night, Johnny, Murdoch.” He patted Johnny’s shoulder and left the room, knowing their father wanted some time alone with the boy. It occurred to him that Murdoch had borrowed his own trick of listening outside the door.


Murdoch watched Johnny closely. “There must be something in the air tonight. I’m feeling sleepy myself. How about you, son?”


“Yeah. But I’m always sleepy lately.” Johnny sighed and yawned again.


“Sam says that’s to be expected. Don’t let it worry you.” Murdoch stood and prepared his son’s medications.


“I know, but I’m tired of bein’ tired. I sleep more’n a baby does.” Johnny wrinkled his nose at the spoon Murdoch held to his mouth, but he swallowed the medicine.


“Well, young man, my advice is to enjoy it while you can.” Murdoch deftly spooned another dose into Johnny’s mouth. “Before you know it, you’ll be back to work and I hear that the tune caller at Lancer is a tough old buzzard.”


“You heard that, too, huh? Must be true.” Johnny gulped the last of his medicine, entertaining his father with his expressions of disgust at the bitter taste.


Murdoch handed him a glass of water and began removing the pillows from behind Johnny’s back. He took the glass and allowed Johnny to lie down without assistance, taking his time to smooth the quilt over the boy’s shoulders. Some of his old nervousness at talking to his younger son threatened, but he choked it down, sitting on the edge of the bed.


“Son, I’m proud of the way you’ve thought through this horse business. A seasoned businessman couldn’t have done any better.”


“Thank you.” Johnny flushed with pleasure at the praise from his father. “Scott kinda helped me.”


“Your brother claims he did very little.”


“He said that, huh?”


“Uh huh.” Murdoch found himself smoothing the quilt again. “Look, John, I know I didn’t make it easy for you. I pushed hard and I didn’t know when to quit. It must’ve seemed as though I didn’t trust you.”


Johnny watched him gravely. “Sometimes.”


“I…well, the truth is that I didn’t at first. Yet I soon learned that your loyalties were with Lancer.” He rubbed his hands together. “I kept pushing, though. I suppose I questioned your judgment.” He looked at Johnny and smiled. “Some of the things you do…you scare me, son.”


Johnny ducked his head. “Betcha I don’t scare you half as much as you scare me, Old Man.”


Murdoch rested his hand on Johnny’s chest. “Maybe we’ve learned enough so that we don’t have to be so afraid of each other anymore. I know I’ve finally figured out that you do understand responsibility. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long.”


“Yeah. Well…ah, look Murdoch. I…I know I still got a lot to learn. I been thinkin’ about how hard it must’ve been to build up this place.” He freed his hand from beneath the bedclothes and began pleating the quilt with his fingers. “You cleared the brush and waterholes, ripped the scrub outta the pastures, put up the first fences…”


He glanced up at Murdoch. “Took me a while, but I reckon I understand what you meant that first day when you told me and Scott that you had a grey hair for every blade of good grass.” He dropped his gaze back to his restless fingers on the quilt. “I feel the same way when I’ve broke my back doin’ somethin’—riles me to see it undone or messed up. Guess I made you feel that way. Wish I’d figured that out sooner.”


Johnny stared at his hand and Murdoch sensed that he wanted to say more, was searching for the words. He forced himself to remain still and quiet, letting Johnny take all the time he needed.


When Johnny finally spoke, his voice came out as a whisper. “You know, I feel like I got a real chance to make a new start. I ain’t always believed that—and I…I can’t do it by myself.” He looked up into his father’s face. “I wanna work next to you and Scott, build somethin’ that’s ours. Thanks for givin’ me the chance.” 


Murdoch lowered his voice to match Johnny’s. “Working alongside my sons has been my dream for a long time. You’re giving me an opportunity, too, Johnny.” He covered Johnny’s restless fingers with his hand. “I want to help you make that new beginning, but I’m set in my ways. So I’ll need some guidance from you on when and how to help. Deal?”                                 


Johnny met his father’s eyes and that sincere, heart-stopping smile glinted. “Deal.”


He disentangled his hand and squeezed Murdoch’s forearm. “It feels real good to know that you care enough to worry about the stunts I pull, Old Man. Thanks for tellin’ me.”


Murdoch rested his hand on the top of Johnny’s head for several moments before standing and turning down the lamp. “Sleep well, John. Jelly will be in shortly.”


Johnny squirmed onto his side and sighed blissfully. “Boy, it sure feels good to be able to sleep on my side again.” He closed his eyes. “G’night, Murdoch.”


Murdoch stared down at him in the dim light and for a brief moment, the years rolled back and his toddler lay there, curled on his side with one hand under his pillow. He blinked and the form on the bed was Johnny again. He bent and grasped his son’s shoulder.


“You are young, son, but time will cure that and you’re learning. You still worry me. Sometimes you scare me to death, but there was never a colt worth his salt that didn’t do that. I’ve always believed that the wildest colts make the best horses.” He squeezed hard and felt Johnny’s head turn toward his hand. “You’ll do, boy. You’ll do just fine.”


Johnny’s hand found his father’s and he realized that Murdoch had overheard his conversation with Scott. He yawned and snuggled his head into the pillow. “See you in the mornin’. Maybe tomorrow evenin’ you can catch me some more fireflies.”


Murdoch stood still, savoring the warmth of Johnny’s hand against his. His other hand combed the hair back from his son’s forehead until he could trust his voice. “Good night, son. We’ll talk more about our breeding business tomorrow afternoon—after we watch your brother ride our stallion.”


Johnny was three parts asleep, but his head came up off the pillow at that remark. “Watch?”


Murdoch smiled indulgently. “Oh, I think if you’ll agree to stay on your back all morning, it wouldn’t hurt you to watch Scott and Smoky from that chair by your window.”


**Johnny is training Smoky in what is now known as the “California style.” You will sometimes hear it called the old-style California vaquero or “buckaroo” tradition of horsemanship. It comes from Spain by way of the Conquistadors through Mexico to California. The Californio vaqueros started their colts in a jaquíma (hah-key-may), a bridle without a bit. Later cowboys anglicized the word to hackamore (not to be confused with a modern control device called a mechanical hackamore). It is used to teach the colt to respond to the rider’s hands, legs, and shifting weight. The primary aim is to get the horse to yield or give to pressure from the direct pull of the rein and not to resist this pressure. The horse learns to follow and seek the float—or slack of a loose rein rather than resist pressure. As training progresses, more emphasis is placed on legs and weight with less on the reins.


The nosepiece of the jaquíma is called the bosal, a thick piece of braided rawhide. This rawhide tube goes around the muzzle of the horse and has a large knob on the underside called the heel butt where the rein attaches. It is shaped to place pressure on different parts of the horse’s nose (which is very sensitive) and cheeks, helping the rider teach the horse to learn and respond to the signals to move from left to right, right to left, and forward and back. Generally speaking, any movement a human asks a horse to perform is some combination of balancing between forward to back and side to side. A well-schooled or “broke” horse has a good understanding of go, left, right, whoa, and back.


Over the course of his training, a horse progresses through several thicknesses of bosals, the first being very thick and wide, the last one pencil-thin (in the pilot episode, Barranca wore a thin bosal when Johnny rode him into town after breaking him). The rein ties to the heel butt of the bosal, (a bit further back than the horse’s chin) via a specialized knot called a fiador (fee-ah-dohr).  The reins are actually a rope of braided horsehair (traditionally hair from the mane, it is softer) approximately twenty-two feet long and used as a combination of rein and lead-rope. This is known as the mecate (may-kah-tay). The hair rein helps teach the horse to neck rein (move left or right in response to rein pressure on the neck). The hair makes more of an impression on the horse than rope or leather.


A well-schooled horse ready for a bit has been taught to respond so well to the rider’s legs and weight that very little use of the reins is necessary. When the rider’s hands ask for a soft feel, the horse’s nose comes down so that his face is almost perpendicular to the ground, even when the reins have a great deal of slack. He carries his head in this position, instead of with his nose sticking out in front of him. “Making the horse round,” means asking the horse to compress his body, bringing his hind legs well underneath him while keeping his face perpendicular to the ground. This prepares him for moves such as a spin or sliding stop. If you look at the horse’s spine in this position, it is rounded. A cowhorse learns to move forward with his hind end well under him. He also learns to immediately shift his weight when he stops so that he is prepared to turn or spin immediately without having to wait until he shifts his weight—or without trying to turn with weight on his front legs, which takes much longer and may leave the horse off balance after the change in direction. This is the “backwards thinking” Johnny referred to.


The vaquero worked with the colt on the ground, as well. Before schooling him in the jaquíma, he taught the colt that he was only pulling on himself by fighting a rope and that following the feel (or slack) got him out of trouble. Bracing himself and pulling kept the colt in a pickle and fighting the rope made things worse. Following the feel meant finding release. This prepared the colt so he would yield to pressure in the jaquíma instead of bracing or fighting it. This is why Johnny has spent time working with Smoky on the ground.


The California style produces highly responsive and skilled working horses, able to cut, rope, and handle anything a cow can throw at horse and rider. The true stock horse or reining horse developed from this style of training. A major training goal for these working horses was to refine the horse’s response to the rider’s legs and weight, using more leg and body and less rein. The goal was to be able to guide the horse without the help of the reins, as a cowboy often needs both hands for his rope. Today, the National Reined Cowhorse Association (NRCA) celebrates the methods and results of the old California vaqueros.


The spur is an important aid to the rider in this riding style. A sharply roweled (the rowel is the sharp piece of the spur, on cowboy spurs, it usually is circular and spins) spur can be vicious, but on the heels of a master horseman, it simply gives the rider better communication with his legs. The large, sharp rowels help the rider provide guidance and leg contact under hectic, harsh, and speedy working conditions. The vaqueros dangled pajados (American cowboys called them jinglebobs) from the rowel pins, claiming that the chiming sounds they made helped to keep the horse alert. It also served to help riders locate each other in the brush. Bit and spur making was considered a great art in Mexico and California. A horseman or a cowboy was often very vain about his spurs and felt the fancier, the better. Among horsemen who train(ed) in the California style, a rider is not allowed to ride with a spur until he proves he can achieve the appropriate performance without it. Only then does the spur become a sophisticated tool to elevate the horse’s performance. Only then does the rider “earn his spurs.” 


Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Ten


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